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Miggy continues to wow, carry Tigers in division race

Cabrera homers to put Detroit ahead, providing support for Scherzer

CLEVELAND -- Jim Leyland is running out of things to say about Miguel Cabrera.

"I have been for a few years now," the Tigers manager warned Tuesday afternoon, before a 5-1 win against the Indians. "Guys keep asking, and I don't know what else to say. I really don't."

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CLEVELAND -- Jim Leyland is running out of things to say about Miguel Cabrera.

"I have been for a few years now," the Tigers manager warned Tuesday afternoon, before a 5-1 win against the Indians. "Guys keep asking, and I don't know what else to say. I really don't."

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Cabrera, unrelenting, keeps providing things worth talking about. His encore to his three-homer masterpiece from Sunday was only one home run, but it was a doozy, big enough to change the course of their series opener against the American League Central leaders.

Add in the style points, and he left teammates and opponents marveling again.

"If you look at the video, I went back to tag up," said Torii Hunter, who was on second base as Cabrera's line drive to straightaway center field went over him and kept going for 411 feet. "I played it off pretty smooth, like, 'Yeah, I knew it was gone."

Hunter played enough games here to know that line drives normally don't carry out to that part of the park.

Jhonny Peralta played most of his career here, so he knows better than most. In the two-plus seasons he has played alongside Cabrera, however, he has learned not to be surprised by anything the reigning AL Most Valuable Player does.

That doesn't mean Peralta can't be impressed.

"The way he hit it? One-handed? Unbelievable," Peralta marveled.

It was enough for Leyland to find more things to say.

"That pitch was down and away," Leyland said of Corey Kluber's offering, "and he just got extended on it. Like I said, there's not many guys that can do that. That's why he is who he is."

And in the few seconds it took for Cabrera's liner to clear the center-field fence for a go-ahead two-run homer, the suddenly silenced crowd at Progressive Field was reminded: That's why the AL Central is still seen as the Tigers' to lose.

The immediate impact of Tuesday's win on the standings was incremental, moving Detroit within a game and a half of Cleveland in the division. The fearsome part is what Cabrera could mean in the race over the coming weeks if he keeps hitting like this.

His 12th home run of the year -- and fourth in two games -- put him one off the AL lead, while extending his advantage in RBIs and batting average. He's one homer away from leading all three Triple Crown categories again, but on a pace for stronger numbers than last year, and a handful of hits away from hitting .400 in late May.

According to Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN Stats and Information, Cabrera is the sixth player in Major League history to bat .384 or better with at least 12 home runs and 49 RBIs through his team's first 43 games. The only other player to do it in the past 50 years was Boston's Manny Ramirez in 2001.

This is the type of tear that not only carried Cabrera into the history books last September, but carried the Tigers into October. Unlike Sunday night in Texas, when Cabrera homered three times in a losing effort, Max Scherzer kept the Tigers close enough Tuesday -- retiring 22 consecutive batters after a first-inning run -- to remain one Cabrera drive away from a lead.

"[Cabrera] doesn't throw any at-bats away anymore, and I'm proud of him for that," Leyland said, "because we talked about that a couple years ago. He's a hard guy to get out. No matter when he's up there, no matter what the situation is, he's a tough guy to get out. When he grinds that at-bat out, it's something to see."

That was a point Indians manager Terry Francona tried to make before the game.

"If you are fortunate to get him out early," Francona warned, "he can set you up late."

Kluber retired Cabrera twice in his first five masterful innings, protecting a 1-0 lead, but Cabrera took 16 pitches out of him doing it. He saw the array of fastballs, changeups and sliders.

"You want to see all his pitches in the first at-bats," Cabrera said. "He worked hard in the first inning. That's our goal, try to work the count, try to make something happen, try to give run support."

They finally took advantage in the sixth. A 3-1 count and an understandable reluctance to put the leadoff man on for the middle of Detroit's order left Kluber with no choice but to challenge Andy Dirks, who jumped on a 94-mph fastball and sent it out on a line to right to tie the game.

After Kluber (3-3) left an 0-2 fastball up to Torii Hunter, who drove it to the fence for a double, he didn't get that far with Cabrera.

Cabrera fouled off Kluber's high fastball for strike one, but adjusted to the second pitch diving away.

"I missed my spot," Kluber said. "And it was kind of right where he wanted it."

The result looked an awful lot like his line-drive homer to straightaway center Sunday night in Texas, except this one cleared the fence without contact for a 3-1 lead.

"I didn't think it was [going out]," Cabrera said. "I think the wind helped me a little bit."

Cabrera's 195th home run as a Tiger moved him into a tie with Kirk Gibson for 10th place on the all-time franchise list. His 28 home runs against Cleveland are more than he has hit against any other opponent, and his 14 at Progressive Field are tops for him anywhere on the road.

Scherzer carried that lead through the eighth with his best outing of the year. He didn't have a strikeout until the fifth inning, despite a 98-mph fastball and a nasty slider, but he fanned seven of the last 12 batters he faced.

Two singles and a walk, all in the first inning, comprised all the damage off Scherzer, who improved to 6-0 for the second time in three seasons.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera, Andy Dirks, Max Scherzer