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Tigers' hit parade continues against Yankees

Top of the order key as Detroit chases Hughes in fifth, collects 17 knocks

DETROIT -- In case you forgot last fall, this is what a fully functioning lineup looks like when hitters get going. Actually, this might be better.

Austin Jackson starts it all. Torii Hunter was the missing piece.

"Austin gets on base, and you've got to commend him. He's the table-setter for us," Hunter said. "And those guys at the table, Prince Fielder and [Miguel] Cabrera, those guys want to eat. So I've got to kind of be the server."

With back-to-back wins against the Yankees, it's looking like a feast. Not even former Tigers nemesis Phil Hughes could push them back from the table in Saturday's 8-4 win.

After scoring a total of eight runs in a season-opening three-game series at Minnesota, including two runs in back-to-back losses, the Tigers have now scored eight runs in back-to-back games, something they hadn't done against the Yankees since 2004.

Detroit's offense has found its panacea with New York's pitching staff, with a chance at a three-game sweep if the Tigers can hit CC Sabathia, their first opposing left-handed starter of the season. They have found a catalyst in Jackson, who led off the season with a base hit and seemingly hasn't cooled down since.

Jackson has reached base to lead off the opening inning in each of the Tigers' first five games, including Saturday when Yankees shortstop Jayson Nix booted a ground ball for an error. Four times, the Tigers have brought him around and driven him in, three times on an out.

"Hopefully it can kind of put some pressure on them early in the ballgame," Jackson said. "I'm really trying to focus on getting good pitches, having good at-bats and getting on there for the guys behind me. It just puts a lot pressure on the opposing teams."

On Saturday, it had to feel like a replay for Yankees pitching. Jackson led off four of the Tigers' eight innings, and reached base in three of them. All three times, the hitters that followed drove him in.

Add Jackson's four times on base with a three-hit game from Hunter and a four-hit performance from Cabrera, and the top third of Detroit's order accounted for seven of the eight runs.

"It's a long season, we just have to keep this going," Cabrera said. "We have to stay focused and do our jobs so we can win as many games as we can."

Jackson had a .377 on-base percentage last year, including .393 in his first at-bat of the game, so it isn't a major jump for him. Out of the 56 times he reached base to start off a game last year, he scored 33 runs. Add in other innings he led off, and the on-base percentage rose to .409, with 60 runs out of 107 times on base.

That success, though, came without a consistent hitter batting second in the lineup to bridge the gap between Jackson and Cabrera. Hunter, like he did batting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols with the Angels, seems to be thriving in it.

"When I see Austin over there and I've got these guys hitting behind me, I've never been that guy to have hitters like Cabrera, Prince and last year Pujols hitting behind me," Hunter said. "And that's a lot of fun. I've always hit behind the [Justin] Morneaus and [Joe] Mauers and Vladimir Guerreros, and I was their protection. Who wants Torii as their protection?"

Hunter's game, in turn, has adjusted.

"I don't swing as hard," he said. "I just try to stay inside the ball, shoot it to the right side sometimes, not all the time. I'm more mature at the plate."

The error by Nix, filling in for injured shortstops Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez, put Jackson on base before Cabrera's single sent him from first to third ahead of Fielder's sacrifice fly.

Vernon Wells' homer off Max Scherzer leading off the next inning promptly tied the game, setting up a pitching duel for the next few innings despite command problems for both starters. Hughes stranded Hunter and Cabrera in scoring position on Brett Gardner's sliding catch to rob Victor Martinez in the third, then struck out Ramon Santiago to leave Jhonny Peralta on second in the fourth.

Once Jackson singled leading off the fifth, however, Hughes never recovered. Hunter added another opposite-field hit, but powered it all the way to the right-field fence for an RBI double, before Cabrera singled him home and chased Hughes.

"I think it puts more pressure on the other team when those guys are out there and you've got the big guys coming up," manager Jim Leyland said. "That's pretty stressful."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi tried to stop the bleeding by giving lefty Boone Logan a rematch with Fielder, who homered off him to break open Friday's 8-3 win. This time, Fielder's single moved Cabrera along for a Martinez sac fly and an Andy Dirks single.

Once Peralta greeted Phelps with an RBI single, the Tigers had a 5-1 lead. Three Yankees runs in the sixth nearly brought them back, fueled by two walks each from Scherzer (1-0) and reliever Al Alburquerque ahead of Lyle Overbay's two-run single. Alburquerque stranded the potential tying run on third with a Nix groundout, then Darin Downs held down the Yankees' offense for a pair of innings.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi complained to home-plate umpire Jerry Layne that Alburquerque was balking on his move out of the stretch, but didn't get the call.

"I think Alburquerque balks every time," Girardi said. "One time his foot goes up twice. One time it goes up once. If a guy's trying to steal a base and he goes up twice one time and goes up once one time, if you're going to squeeze, you don't know when to go as the runner. I think it's a balk."

Back-to-back singles from Jackson and Hunter leading off the sixth set up two insurance runs in the sixth, including a Dirks RBI single.

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