Kansas City, Mo. – It was not the three hits that made him fire up after the Tigers closed out a hard-fought 4-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night, just as much as it was his daring sprint home in the second inning.
“Woooo,” Miguel Cabrera said. “Did you see that ?! Speedy Gonzalez.”
Cabrera felt a mid-depth flying ball to the left field by Harold Castro and challenged the arm of left fielder Andrew Benintendi. He lost the race – the ball hit him to the plate – but Cabrera slipped to the back of the plate and avoided the mark from catcher Salvador Perez.
Cabrera showed up, gave a fist blow and then strutted back to the Vince McMahon style.
“It was fun,” said Tigers starter Casey Mize. “I try to stay focused and I see it happen. It was really fun. And honestly, it was a huge game. And the three hits were just amazing too.
It’s a shame the Comerica Park Miggy Milestone tracker was not mobile. It would have spun all night. He single-handedly in his first three strokes, pulling him within six of 3,000 for his career.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Royals 2
“I just try to focus every stroke, every lane,” Cabrera said. “Just try not to put pressure on myself and go from there. Just go out and make something happen.”
It was Cabrera’s 16th three-hit match against the Royals, most of any visiting player. His slash at Kauffman Stadium is an impressive .320 / .382 / .511. With three games left this weekend, who is betting that he will reach 3,000 on Sunday?
“I’m just trying to play my best baseball,” Cabrera said. “I know it’s a lot of pressure and there are a lot of eyes on me. But at the same time I’m in a good position right now. I just hope we can win more matches. It’s more important.
“I feel that if we keep winning matches, the numbers will be there.”
The Tigers and Royals played 19 games last season, 14 of which were settled by two runs or less. Both teams improved their lists this year, adding veteran talent and top prospects, but the intensity picked up right where it left off.
“It’s so hard,” said Eric Haase, who delivered an important pinch hit in the Tigers’ winning rally in the seventh. “They never give up. They have so much speed up and down their lineup. It’s like if you can just keep them away from the bases, then you can stay out of so many problems.
“But it’s their game. Tic-tac, bundle, hit and run – it’s a lot to deal with.”
It required some disciplined blows against a hard-hitting lefty reliever and two clutch-to-out blows in the seventh to break the deadlock at 2-2.
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Jake Brentz came in with throwing 98 mph four-stitch and two-stitch fastballs and mid-90s change-ups for the Royals. He knocked Akil Baddoo and Castro out around a walk to Spencer Torkelson.
Manager AJ Hinch sent up with his right hand to hit Haase to pinch hit for catcher Tucker Barnhart, and a spark was ignited. Haase singled to the left and the ball bounced off his bat at an exit speed of 107 mph.
“He knows his role,” Hinch said. “At that point, I felt it was really important to continue the inning. Haase is dangerous. He can change the scoreboard. I know it was a single, but it was pretty impressive to get off the bench against a guy who threw so hard.”
The same was the next two matches. Victor Reyes, in a hole with two strokes, put an RBI single up the middle. Austin Meadows followed with another RBI single.
The bullpen made these runs rise and threw pointless ball the rest of the way. Joe Jimenez, Alex Lange and Michael Fulmer recorded nine straight outs, bringing Gregory Soto closer to the ninth. He worked around a one-time hike to record his second rescue.
“Our bullpen was nails,” Haase said. “Just keeping us in the game like they did was huge.
Mize, though far from overpowering in his second start of the season, was also huge, limiting the injury to two runs in his five innings.
“It was annoying to be in those situations, but we were able to work things out and come out with the win,” Mize said. “That’s what matters.”
He only had two strikeouts, but both came at critical times.
In the second inning, Mize knocked out Michael A. Taylor as he swung through a 3-2 shooter with runners in second and third place and one out. He finished the inning by throwing three splinters in a row to the left-hander who hit Nicky Lopez – and got the rollover ground out on a slider to finish the inning.
Mize helped himself earlier in the inning as he struck on a shot attempt and threw aggressively to second base to get a force out.
The Royals broke through for two races against him in the fourth, but he was able to strand runners on second and third, beating Royals rookie Bobby Witt, Jr., and looking on a 3-2 fastball.
“He threw himself into trouble and out of trouble,” Hinch said. “They got him for a pair, but he hung there mentally. It’s important. It’s a team that puts pressure on you. They run the bases, they play defense, they do a lot of things to keep the game close.
“Casey not throwing himself over the big innings and getting big outs to finish the innings was really critical.”
It is not so long ago that the Royals and Tigers were the dominant teams in the central division. Now both are coming out of lengthy rebuilds seeking to regain the lost status.
“When you try to win matches in your division, they are all rivalries,” Hinch said. “Only two teams are tired of being at the bottom of the division. We’re both trying to get back into the AL Central conversation. “