Infante plays hero as offense steps up against Tribe
Tigers secure series win against Central rivals, even with Miggy sitting
DETROIT -- The names on the lineup card change. The Tigers' success against Cleveland does not.
While Miguel Cabrera was helping the Tigers take four straight in Cleveland a few weeks ago, plugging through his various injuries, Omar Infante was working his way back from the ankle sprain that cost him a month. With Cabrera out, Saturday was Infante's turn to do the heavy lifting.
They still needed add-on runs to finish off the Indians, using a four-run eighth to finally put the Tribe away for a 10-5 win at Comerica Park, but Infante's five RBIs in his first two-homer game as a Tiger since 2006 provided a pretty good start.
As a result, the American League Central race is moving closer to a finish.
"We're in a good position," Infante said after the Tigers extended their division lead to 8 1/2 games. "We have to keep playing like we're playing the last month. They have a good team too, but these two wins are very big for us."
Detroit's seventh consecutive win against Cleveland and 15th win in 18 meetings this season gave the Tigers their largest lead of the season in the AL Central and dropped their magic number for clinching a third consecutive division title to 19.
The one-sided season series is essentially the difference in the division. The Indians have a better record against everyone else in baseball. However, after pitching well and getting swept in Atlanta thanks to offensive struggles, the Indians needed to make a statement in Detroit to change their fortunes in this race.
The Tigers, coming within one out of being swept in a four-game series against Oakland before Cleveland arrived, instead picked up where they left off a few weeks ago in Cleveland.
Like those games at Progressive Field in early August, the Indians kept fighting, only to realize the Tigers always had an answer. Saturday ran through the cycle several times. The Tribe's late rally -- including a Carlos Santana inside-the-park home run on a scary collision for Austin Jackson at the center-field wall in the eighth -- couldn't overcome the lead the Tigers built early against Scott Kazmir and extended twice against the bullpen.
"They just kept coming at us," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We fought back, which was really good to see. But they kept coming, and we couldn't keep them from scoring."
That held, even on a night when they didn't have to keep down Cabrera; his abdominal injury did it for them. He played through it so effectively for so long, it was nearly forgotten. If Friday was a reminder of what they lose with Cabrera injured, Infante's performance showed what he can do when he's healthy.
Infante's two-homer game was the eighth of his career, but his first since coming back to Detroit last summer. The last time he did it in a Tiger uniform, he was a utility player backing up Placido Polanco at second base. Saturday's outburst showed again why his return has been so important for this team, now 9-1 in games Cabrera hasn't started.
"That's why I was so upset when [Infante] got hurt," Torii Hunter said, "because I knew how important he was to our lineup. Now that he's back, you see the results."
Infante's first homer was the crushing blow in a 42-pitch second inning that nearly knocked out Scott Kazmir (7-7). The one pitch Kazmir had to regret was the 0-2 slider that hung up for Infante to pull.
"I was looking to bury a slider," Kazmir said, "and I ended up throwing a cement mixer."
Infante said he has been focusing his work in batting practice on line drives. His three-run shot was a launch, erasing an early Cleveland advantage for a 3-1 Tigers lead.
"I was waiting, trying to make contact," he said. "The slider stayed hanging and I make good contact."
It looked like the start of a long night for Kazmir. Instead, the veteran lefty retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced and lasted five innings, giving the Indians a chance to chip away. Once Bryan Shaw entered, however, Infante struck again.
His first homer was a no-doubter compared to his second shot, a sixth-inning, two-run loft that sent Michael Brantley to the fence in left, trying to keep it in the park. Instead, the ball hit Brantley's glove, then rolled on top of the fence and over.
"When I didn't see it, I thought he caught the ball," Infante said. "When I looked at it [on replay], he was very close to catching the ball. Lucky day. Good day for me."
Coming a night after Victor Martinez's fly-ball double that Michael Bourn lost in the lights for two runs that allowed the Tigers to pull away Friday, it seemed like a continuation. Then came a bizarre eighth inning.
Anibal Sanchez (12-7) came within a batter of finishing the seventh before Yan Gomes took a pitch deep for his ninth homer on the year. Drew Smyly retired Bourn to end the seventh, but Jason Kipnis' one-out double in the eighth started a wild rally off Jose Veras.
Santana's drive to straightaway center sent Jackson crashing into the wall as he tried to make the catch. He couldn't hold onto the ball, instead clutching his arm in apparent pain as Santana rounded the bases to make it a 6-5 game.
It looked like a shoulder injury on impact. It turned out to be a scare.
"I was concerned about a separated shoulder when I saw it," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think it more knocked the wind out of him than anything else."
Jackson didn't catch the ball, but he eventually caught his breath. Then he got his revenge, tripling in two runs in the bottom half to help Detroit pull away again. Once Jose Iglesias jumped at a 94-mph high fastball to put down a squeeze bunt, Jackson beat a play at the plate.
"It was not easy," Iglesias said. "Fortunately I got it down."
It finally put Cleveland down once again. For another night, they did it without Cabrera.