Kansas City, Mo. — It wasn’t the three hits that had him fired up after the Tigers’ closed out a hard-fought 4-2 win over the Kansas City Royals Thursday night as much as it was his daring sprint home in the second inning.
“Woooo,” Miguel Cabrera said. “Did you see that?! Speedy Gonzalez.”
Cabrera tagged on a medium-depth fly ball to left field by Harold Castro and challenged the arm of left fielder Andrew Benintendi. He lost the race — the ball beat him to the plate — but Cabrera slid to the back side of the plate and avoided the tag of catcher Salvador Perez.
Cabrera popped up, gave a fist punch and then strutted back to the dugout Vince McMahon-style.
“That was hilarious,” Tigers starter Casey Mize said. “I’m trying to stay focused and I’m seeing that happen. It was really funny. And honestly, it was a huge play. And the three hits, too, just awesome.
It’s too bad the Comerica Park Miggy Milestone tracker wasn’t mobile. It would have been spinning all night. He singled in his first three at-bats, pulling him within six of 3,000 for his career.
“I’m just trying to focus every at-bat, every pitch,” Cabrera said. “Just don’t try to put pressure on myself and go from there. Just go out and make something happen.”
It was Cabrera’s 16th three-hit game against the Royals, the most by any visiting player. His slash-line at Kauffman Stadium is an impressive .320/.382/.511. With three games left here this weekend, who is betting against him getting to 3,000 by Sunday?
“I’m just trying to play my best baseball,” Cabrera said. “I know it’s a lot of pressure and there’s 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 games. That’s more important.
“I feel like if we keep winning games, the numbers are going to be there.”
The Tigers and Royals played 19 games last season, 14 of them were decided by two runs or less. Both teams enhanced their rosters this year, infusing them with veteran talent and top prospects, but the intensity picked up right where it left off.
“It’s so hard,” said Eric Haase, who delivered a key pinch-hit in the Tigers’ game-winning rally in the seventh. “They never quit. They have so much speed up and down their lineup. It’s like if you can just keep them off the bases you can stay out of so much trouble.
“But that’s their game. Tic-tac, bunt, hit and run — it’s a lot to deal with.”
It took some disciplined at-bats against a hard-throwing lefty reliever and two clutch two-out hits in the seventh to break the 2-2 deadlock.
Jake Brentz came in throwing 98-mph four-seam and two-seam fastballs and mid-90s change-ups for the Royals. He struck out Akil Baddoo and Castro around a walk to Spencer Torkelson.
Manager AJ Hinch sent up right-handed hitting Haase to pinch hit for catcher Tucker Barnhart and a spark was lit. Haase singled to left, the ball leaping off his bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph.
“He knows his role,” Hinch said. “In that spot I felt continuing the inning was really important. Haase is dangerous. He can change the scoreboard. I know it was a single, but coming off the bench against a guy throwing that hard was pretty impressive.”
So were the next two at-bats. Victor Reyes, in a two-strike hole, lined an RBI single up the middle. Austin Meadows followed with another RBI single.
The bullpen made those runs stand up, pitching scoreless ball the rest of the way. Joe Jimenez, Alex Lange and Michael Fulmer recorded nine straight outs, setting up closer Gregory Soto for the ninth. He worked around a one-out walk to record his second save.
“Our bullpen was nails,” Haase said. “Just to keep us in the game the way they did was huge.
Mize, though he was far from overpowering in his second start of the season, was also huge, limiting the damage to two runs in his five innings.
“It was annoying to be in those situations but we were able to work out of stuff and come out with the win,” Mize said. “That’s what matters.”
He had just two strikeouts, but both came at critical moments.
In the second inning, Mize struck out Michael A. Taylor swinging through a 3-2 slider with runners at second and third and one out. He ended the inning throwing three straight splitters to left-handed hitting Nicky Lopez – getting rollover ground out on a slider to end the inning.
Mize helped himself earlier in the inning, pouncing on a bunt attempt and aggressively throwing to second base to get a force out.
The Royals broke through for two runs against him in the fourth, but he was able to strand runners at second and third striking out Royals rookie Bobby Witt, Jr., looking at a 3-2 fastball.
“He pitched into trouble and out of trouble,” Hinch said. “They nicked him for a couple but he hung in there mentally. That’s important. That’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 caving in those big innings and getting big outs to end innings was really critical.”
It wasn’t that long ago that the Royals and Tigers were the dominant teams in the Central Division. Now, both are coming out of lengthy rebuilds looking to win back that lost status.
“When you are trying to win games inside your division, they’re all rivalries,” Hinch said. “It’s just two teams that are tired of being at the bottom of the division. Both of us are trying to re-enter the A.L. Central conversation.”