08/17/08 12:14 AM ET
Tigers power past Orioles
Pair of homers in fourth inning give Detroit the lead for good
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
When Verlander struggled in his last start, Tigers manager Jim Leyland gave him a quick hook after 78 pitches with the hope to "freshen him up" for this outing. Leyland still wants to be cautious with his young ace, and he wasn't going to press his luck on Saturday. Still, for six innings, Verlander's arsenal was plenty to continue his success against the Orioles with a 5-3 victory.
While Verlander recovered from two unearned runs to blank the O's for the rest of his outing, Cabrera smacked a 440-foot home run in the fourth inning, and Carlos Guillen avenged his two-run error with a go-ahead solo shot two batters later. In a season with more than its fair shares of games when the Tigers have been out of sync, this was one night where pitching and offense picked up each other.
"Justin pitched good," Cabrera said. "He pitched six strong innings. We gave him five runs, and that was enough to let him win the game."
Whether the victory means anything for the stretch run -- it was Detroit's 60th win of the season in mid-August, later than many expected -- it provided an entertaining night of baseball for the 41,727 in attendance. Cabrera's home run undoubtedly stood as the highlight attraction.
It wasn't long enough to crack the top 10 homers in the nine-year history of this ballpark, but it ranks as the longest this season, according to estimated distances provided by the Tigers' media relations department. Almost as impressive, though, was that much of the power came from Cabrera's strength, rather than the speed of the pitch.
Orioles starter Dennis Sarfate threw a heavy diet of fastballs over his first few innings, including all five pitches to Cabrera in his first at-bat before he slapped a hard-hit ground ball off of shortstop Juan Castro's glove. When Cabrera stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the fourth, Sarfate changed his approach, going with back-to-back breaking balls low and over the plate.
Cabrera took the first for a called strike. He didn't miss the second.
"He basically hit that ball one-handed," Leyland marveled. "He just got one out and got it. Obviously, he had both hands hitting, but he just had a great finish, kind of almost one-handed that ball."
Almost, though Cabrera wouldn't go that far.
"Both hands," Cabrera said.
More importantly, Cabrera's arms were extended as he reached for the ball. Once he connected, he sent it into flight until it landed at the base of the brick wall behind the left-field seats, underneath the retired number of Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer, for Cabrera's 25th homer of the year.
Home runs that deep usually come off fastballs that provide some of the power. This one didn't.
"You see things from this guy that just marvel you day after day," Leyland said. "I mean, people just don't do those kind of things. This guy, he's a force."
The impact on the game was to tie it after Guillen's third-inning throwing miscue had given Baltimore a 2-1 lead. Two batters after Cabrera erased that advantage, Guillen atoned for his throw to propel Detroit ahead for good, taking a Sarfate fastball to left for an opposite-field shot.
Guillen hit pitches hard in all four of his at-bats after missing the previous three games with a pinched nerve in his back. His 10th homer of the year was the one ball that landed for a hit.
"It always feels good when you hit a home run," Guillen said. "We got ahead on the scoreboard. It's pretty good. When you make errors, it's part of the game. You have to play hard [for] nine innings."
It wouldn't have made as big a difference had Verlander not otherwise held down the Orioles' offense for six.
Verlander entered the game with a 2-0 record and a 1.64 ERA in three career outings against Baltimore, falling one out shy of a complete-game three-hitter at Camden Yards in their last meeting July 20. Yet that was his last victory before four straight losses, including what Leyland called the "blahs" last time out after throwing 130 pitches.
Some of that life returned on Saturday. His fastball topped out around 96 mph, according to the stadium radar gun, and his offspeed pitches accentuated it. With that arsenal, he struck out three of the first eight batters he faced before Castro's third-inning single and a two-out double from Nick Markakis set up Melvin Mora to haunt the Tigers again. This time, Mora grounded to third, but Guillen's throw sailed over Cabrera, allowing both runners to score and erasing Detroit's early lead.
"I made a bad throw," Guillen said. "There's no excuse. It's a routine play."
No matter. Verlander (9-13) allowed an infield single and two walks over his final 13 hitters from there. Just one ball put in play got out of the infield over that span.
The two walks bumped his pitch count to the point that Leyland opted not send him out for the seventh, not at 110 pitches.
"That's a very good lineup, I think -- one of the better ones in the league," Leyland said. "I thought he pitched very, very well. He was definitely out of gas, in my opinion, at the end. But he did a tremendous job."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.