04/16/08 1:00 AM EST
Homers propel Tigers past Twins
Detroit goes deep four times; Robertson hurt in victory
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
They really weren't laughing at Cabrera last week, but he felt like people were. He could feel the pressure centered on him in his first couple weeks with the Tigers, and it showed in his play. Tuesday's 6-5 victory was his way of turning the tables.
"We can put pressure on the other side," Cabrera said.
It wasn't a walk-off home run, but Cabrera's tiebreaking two-run blast had some impact beyond the win. It was seemingly another sign of Cabrera starting to feel comfortable at the plate and challenging pitchers who might challenge him.
On a larger scale, it was an example of the Tigers starting to put key pitching and clutch hitting together -- to get into sync, as manager Jim Leyland keeps saying. While the Tigers chipped away at the Twins' lead before a three-run eighth pulled them ahead, Detroit's bullpen held down Minnesota's offense after a muscle injury forced starter Nate Robertson out of the game.
"We've been out of sync," Leyland said. "Hopefully these two games will get us a little better [synced] mentally, and then some pieces will start to fall into place a little better for us."
The games played out in very similar fashion. Minnesota's starting pitching again largely controlled the first five innings, this time behind budding Tigers nemesis Scott Baker. Gary Sheffield's first home run of the season accounted for Detroit's lone run in that stretch, allowing two RBIs from Joe Mauer and a two-run homer from Justin Morneau to build a 4-1 Minnesota lead entering the bottom of the sixth.
The deficit wasn't as big as it had been on Monday, but the hits that erased it were bigger.
Magglio Ordonez started the comeback when he turned on a Baker pitch and sent it into the left-field seats. Carlos Guillen did the same to right field to lead off the bottom of the seventh and draw Detroit within a run with his third homer of the season.
The three solo home runs were the Tigers' only extra-base hits of the evening until Ordonez's next big hit in the eighth. Placido Polanco drew a one-out walk from Jesse Crain and advanced to third on a bad pickoff play, but Crain overpowered Sheffield, inducing a popout behind home plate to deny the sac-fly opportunity.
Ordonez, who has made several quick outs while looking to hit aggressively early on this season, came to the plate swinging again. He found a like-minded pitcher in Crain, who went after him with strikes on the first two pitches. Ordonez took the 0-1 fastball and went with it to the opposite field, powering it with authority into the right-field corner, allowing Polanco to score easily.
"The pitch I threw to Magglio was a good pitch," Crain said. "He just stayed on it, obviously, or else he wouldn't have hit it."
It was the kind of hit that has seemingly been missing from Ordonez's arsenal early.
"It was a matter of time," Ordonez said. "I feel strong. I wasn't back there [earlier in the season], but now I'm feeling good. I can see the ball and go to left field, right field, anywhere."
Cabrera's strength so far has been pulling or centering on the ball, and it is starting to show more frequently. He had two hits on Monday and some hard-hit balls in previous games. When Crain decided to challenge power with power, Cabrera kept the at-bat going despite an 0-2 hole. After fouling off one pitch and laying off a breaking ball, he was ready when Crain made his mistake, leaving a fastball up and over the plate.
Cabrera hit it on a line over the left-field fence. It looked a lot like his only other home run this season, hit way back on Opening Day, but it meant a little more.
"That's what I need, good at-bats at the right time, doing my best," Cabrera said.
As good as the homer looked, Cabrera says he can do better.
"I've been tight this season. That's why I've hit so low," he said. "I feel like I have to be focused more. It's like I wanted that base hit any way I can."
His teammates expect to see more quality at-bats from him. Ordonez hasn't tried to overwhelm him with advice. He's tried to remind him to relax.
"He's getting his confidence back," Ordonez said. "You have to understand it's his first year in the American League. He's facing different pitchers. The American League's not easy. He's getting better every day."
As important as Cabrera's homer was, it wouldn't have meant much had the pitching staff not held up its end. Robertson grabbed at his left side following Mike Lamb's popout to second leading off the seventh inning, and Aquilino Lopez was brought in to replace him, retiring the next two batters.
After Lopez retired Brendan Harris leading off the eighth, Leyland called on left-hander Clay Rapada to face Mauer and Morneau, who had driven in all four of the Twins' runs entering the eighth inning Tuesday and reached base four times on Monday.
The sidearming Rapada fell behind on Mauer before getting him to chase a 2-0 pitch and ground out to second. He fell behind Morneau with a 3-0 count before bringing it back to a full count with back-to-back called strikes, then fired a third one at the knees for strike three.
The comeback in the bottom of the inning earned Rapada (1-0) his first Major League victory, and might have established him as the complement to Bobby Seay in the Tigers' bullpen.
"He faced two of the better hitters in the league," Leyland said. "If you're going to be a left-handed specialist, that's what you're going to have to do. You need to come in and you need to get them out one time. He did what he's supposed to do, and he did a very good job of it.
"I think guys are treading water a little bit. They need a shot of confidence. Hopefully that's a shot of confidence for himself."
The Tigers offense is getting its shot.
"It's more fun," Cabrera said, "but we've got to score more runs."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.