Kansas City, Mo. – It might’ve been a storyline from another time, like maybe 2014 or 2013.
Miguel Cabrera came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning Friday. The Tigers had lost the lead in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run homer by Michael A. Taylor and trailed 5-3.
It was shaping up to be a frustrating “threatened but failed to score” inning, especially after JaCoby Jones was thrown out at the plate trying to score on pitch that bounced only a few feet away from catcher Salvador Perez.
After reliever Tyler Zuber struck out Jeimer Candelario for the second out, Royals manager Mike Matheny summoned 35-year-old Greg Holland to face 38-year-old Cabrera.
Cabrera, despite a disputed called second strike, worked the count full and then stayed on a slider and drove it 405 feet into the seats in left. It was his second home run of the game, his sixth career grand slam, and it propelled the Tigers to a 7-5 win, their fourth straight, over the Kansas City Royals in the first of three games at Kauffman Stadium.
“That means a lot,” Cabrera said. “I’m like really struggling this season and to get that big home run right there gives me a lot of positivity to go out and keep fighting.”
Going into that at-bat, Cabrera was 4-for-17 with six strikeouts against Holland in his career. He’d never hit a homer of him. He saw a slider on the first pitch of the at-bat and a couple of off-speed pitches in the middle.
“Late in the count I was looking for anything,” Cabrera said. “But the middle of the count, I was worried about his slider and knuckle-curve because he got me out with that a lot of times. I know he’s going to throw me fastball in to chase, for balls.”
Which is why Cabrera was upset with home plate umpire Sean Barber for giving Holland a strike on a 2-1 fastball that missed inside. But Cabrera quickly regrouped.
“He got that call on the one, but I still made the count full,” Cabrera said. “He gave me a good pitch to hit and I hit it.”
The two homers put Cabrera nine short of 500 for his career, which he would prefer not hearing about right now.
“I don’t want to put that pressure on myself,” he said. “I did that early in the season and it don’t work out for me. I think what works for me is to go out and and play and don’t think about the numbers, because that’s how I played my whole career.
“Just try to keep it simple and go out and do my job.”
It wasn’t the cleanest or prettiest win, but it was their fourth straight on this road trip. And what they lacked aesthetically, they made up for in grit.
“Everybody has been doing a really good job late in the game and staying focused for the whole game,” Cabrera said. “We don’t give anything away. We’re always fighting and trying to compete. That’s the most important thing, keep competing.”
After the Royals took a 2-1 lead in the third, the resilient Tigers took the lead right back in the top of the fourth. Candelario led off with a double and went to third with a one-out single by Eric Haase, who had two hits and extended his hit streak to five games.
Niko Goodrum followed with an RBI single and Haase, with an athletic slide, scored on a single by Wilson Ramos. Haase was initially called out at the plate by Barber. But replays showed Haase’s hand swiped the plate before Perez could apply the tag.
“Just mentally staying in the game,” manager AJ Hinch said. “I love our guys’ approach right now and it’s been that way for a little bit. I do think we’ve shown some resiliency and some fight coming back a couple of different times.”
Tigers starter Jose Urena (who gave up the five runs in six innings) lost that lead in the sixth. Perez led off with a double and scored on a single by Ryan O’Hearn. With two outs, Urena then engaged in a 10-pitch tussle with Taylor. After fouling off four straight sinkers with the count full, Taylor got a fifth one and lined it into the seats in left field for a two-run home run.
Cabrera, who hit a 417-foot home run in the second inning off Royals lefty starter Mike Minor, trumped Taylor’s blast in the seventh.
“Miggy is as prepared as any of our guys,” Hinch said. “He does all his work and he, and we, want to see results and he’s starting to see some…I don’t care if you’re young, in the middle of your career or you’re an older veteran, you need to see results when you a good process.
“Miggy is doing that.”
The Tigers bullpen locked it down. Bryan Garcia and Jose Cisnero put up zeros in the seventh and eighth. And then Michael Fulmer, with his fastball climbing to 98 and 99 mph, pitched a clean ninth for his fourth save.
“We’ve got some weapons down there,” Hinch said. “They’re starting to fall into some soft roles that I can maneuver based on the batting order. They’re starting to get comfortable and they’ve been performing.”
The Tigers bullpen has now pitched 11 consecutive scoreless innings.
Video replay correctly reversed the call against Haase at home plate, but it inexplicably did not overturn an out call on Robbie Grossman who appeared to have stolen second in the fifth.
“We thought he was safe, he thought he was safe and I think even their guys thought he was safe,” Hinch said. “But replay didn’t overturn. There’s been a lot of banter about replay and the frustrations. We got one, we didn’t get one, they didn’t get one.
“I don’t know, I should just be quiet and wear it.”
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