Cabrera's shot clinches win, sweep
Tigers close gap on American League Central leaders
DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera started off the Tigers' offense in this series against the White Sox with a broken-bat single. Two days later, his walk-off homer ended it with a sweep and an exclamation point.
The last time the Tigers swept the White Sox was 2003, when Warren Morris provided the bulk of the damage with seven hits in three games. Cabrera is a little bigger hitter to haunt a team, but if Thursday's sweep-clinching 2-1 victory was a proving day for the Tigers, it was arguably one for Cabrera, too.
When Cabrera was with the Marlins, he learned to take off his batting helmet after big home runs before he got into the dugout. If he didn't, he explained recently, it would keep bumping the side of his head when teammates patted him. On his way around third, Cabrera made a point to toss the helmet before getting into the scrum at home plate. He knew what was coming.
"It feels great," Cabrera said. "We got the win. We sweep the series. We won."
When Cabrera put up three hits in Tuesday's opener, including the go-ahead two-run single, manager Jim Leyland felt like he was getting on a roll but was tentative to say too much about it. Thursday was a different category of hitting. Cabrera was hitless in his first three at-bats in Mark Buehrle's duel against Kenny Rogers, but came up with a big hit when the team needed it. As a result, the Tigers' deficit against the American League Central leaders is down to eight games.
Considering Cabrera had been 4-for-31 this season in the late innings of close games -- seventh inning or later with the score tied, one-run lead or with the potential tying run at least on deck -- it wasn't just a big hit for the Tigers.
"I'm very happy [for him]," said Magglio Ordonez, who just missed a home run in the previous at-bat. "I know what he can do. He's a heck of a hitter. It takes a little time to get used to a team and the American League. He's going to hit. When he has confidence, he's going to take off."
Rogers and Buehrle essentially battled to a draw over the first eight innings. A second-inning leadoff double from Paul Konerko and accompanying error from right fielder Ryan Raburn set up Chicago's lone run on Jermaine Dye's ensuing sacrifice fly. After Joe Crede followed with a single, Rogers went on to retire 19 of the final 23 batters he faced. No other runner got past first base.
Rogers was seemingly headed for a tough-luck defeat the way Buehrle was going. Using his cutter heavily against Detroit's lineup of right-handed hitters, he held the Tigers scoreless with four hits and five strikeouts over the first five innings, showing why he defies the trend of the typical left-hander against Detroit.
"Cutter, up, down, here, here," said Ordonez, waving his hands around to demonstrate all the locations Buehrle was spotting. "And he's quick. He works fast. He went inside, then away, away, away."
All seven hits the Tigers had off of him were singles. That was good enough to tie the game, because three of those singles came in succession in the sixth inning. Edgar Renteria and Placido Polanco hit back-to-back line drives to left, then Carlos Guillen battled curveballs, changeups, fastballs and cutters over seven pitches before centering a curveball and lining it to center, bringing Renteria home.
Both starters lasted eight innings with one run allowed. But while Tigers closer Todd Jones recovered from a leadoff single to induce a Konerko double-play grounder in a scoreless top half of the ninth, White Sox setup man Octavio Dotel allowed two deep fly balls. Ordonez took left fielder Carlos Quentin to the warning track before his fly ball was corralled just in front of the fence.
Much like the White Sox pitched Cabrera all series, Dotel went after him with four fastballs outside.
"I don't want to throw inside to him," Dotel said. "I just want to be away from him. If he's going to beat me, he's got to beat me to the other way. Today was his day."
Cabrera did what Dotel wanted. With his strength, though, he took it deeper than a lot of right-handers would have. Even to the opposite field, the ball carried well enough that there was little doubt it was going.
"He's a strong man," Leyland said of Cabrera. "He's a big, strong man. You don't really find that that often, where guys can go to the opposite field like that. Not many guys can do that."
Cabrera obviously can. Beyond the numbers, he has centered balls and taken opposite-field hits well in recent days, a development he credited to working with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon.
"When you see his numbers, he's getting base hits," Ordonez said. "He's not trying to do too much. He's trying to help the team. He doesn't have to try to carry the team. That's why they call it a team."
No Tiger had hit a walk-off homer since Guillen's 11th-inning blast ended their duel with the Yankees last August 25 at 3:30 a.m. ET.
The way they've played this year, they haven't had that many situations for it. It was just the seventh time this season that they've been tied after eight innings, and the second one they've won. They've had the solid pitching lately to stay in games like that, but usually not the clutch hitting. Cabrera's performance late in close games went in line with the team's .236 average in those situations.
Tigers starters did their part this series, allowing five runs over 23 1/3 innings in the three games.
"It was a good matchup and good for us to come out on top," Rogers said. "We can't really rely on anything but pitching and defense. Our offense is going to be OK, I believe, but if we can keep pitching and playing good defense, we'll start getting back into this thing."
Cabrera, in turn, did his part, starting with singles and ending with his homer.
"I'm happy for him," Rogers said. "Big day, big homer. It's an extremely big win for us."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.