MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers have played nine of their last 17 games against the Twins, a stretch that will be 10-of-18 once they wrap up their series Wednesday afternoon. Hitters and pitchers have seen each other so often the last few weeks that at-bats might seem like Groundhog Day.
“It’s very comfortable,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s too comfortable. You shouldn’t be this comfortable in the league, having seen these guys over, and over and over.”
Mitch Garver’s first career grand slam seemingly had the Tigers destined for defeat, four batters into the game. But Eric Haase’s first career grand slam in the ninth gave them new life. Then, Cabrera’s 2,936th career hit in the 11th gave the Tigers the only lead they needed.
The Tigers had lost eight consecutive games at Target Field, including five in a row this season and two of those losses coming in extra innings. They hadn’t won here since then-Tigers rookie Sergio Alcántara homered off then-Twins starter Rich Hill last September. They had also lost eight consecutive road games since their previous visit to the Twin Cities just before the All-Star break. They were seemingly set to extend those streaks Tuesday, trailing by four after Garver’s slam, before they pounced on reliever Hansel Robles as he tried to protect a 5-1 lead in the ninth.
Robles had pitched a scoreless inning against the Tigers on Monday, and two scoreless innings at Comerica Park a week and a half ago. Add in two appearances during the Tigers’ visit to Minnesota just before the All-Star break, and he was facing Detroit for the fifth time in 19 days. This was the first time the Tigers got to him.
Cabrera just missed what would’ve been his 496th home run, crushing a 408-foot double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field to move Robbie Grossman, following his one-out single. Jeimer Candelario’s walk loaded the bases for Haase, who helped spark Detroit’s rally Monday night with a solo homer and barely missed another Tuesday with an earlier drive down the left-field line that just missed the foul pole. He had struck out twice against starter Kenta Maeda, and grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners in the seventh.
Haase had only faced Robles twice this month, striking out and being hit by a pitch, but had seen him from the dugout plenty. He also knows the challenge of repeated looks and matchups from calling pitches behind the plate.
“Watching the ABs ahead of me, he didn’t have much feel for his slider,” Haase said, “so I knew that I was probably going to get something straight, whether it be a fastball or a changeup.”
Haase was sitting on the fastball, fouling off three of them in an eight-pitch battle, including 2-2 and 3-2 pitches just off the outside corner at 97 miles per hour. Robles tried to catch the corner on the final pitch, but got enough for Haase to connect for a line drive, just over the wall in the right-field corner.
“The discipline in that at-bat is really just not getting too pull-homer happy,” Hinch said. “And it’s really hard, because everybody could sense the moment. The only way we were going to get back into it was either putting five or six at-bats together or somebody taking a big swing.”
Said Haase: “I wasn’t comfortable getting beat out front. I was out in front all day against Maeda, just missing a couple balls. Fortunately, I got something over the plate where I could shoot it to right.”
Much like Monday night, the Tigers had a chance to pull ahead in the 10th but couldn’t get their automatic runner home. Former Tigers farmhand Caleb Thielbar struck out Akil Baddoo with Victor Reyes on third, then Jorge Alcala induced a first-pitch groundout from Jonathan Schoop to keep the game tied. José Cisnero escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning with back-to-back strikeouts of Max Kepler and Miguel Sanó.
Cabrera’s ninth-inning double tied him with Barry Bonds for 37th on the all-time hits list. Two innings later, his ground ball through the middle against Alcala passed Bonds and scored Schoop for Detroit’s first lead of the night. Daniel Norris pitched a scoreless 11th for the save.