That all changed with one swing of the bat on Sunday afternoon. For the second straight game, the Tigers' offensive woes throughout the majority of the game were erased with a late long ball.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
"It was a big situation and he hadn't hit them very good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "But when he does, it's a long one. We were hoping he'd run into one there and he did."
Although Cabrera struggled early in the series, the Tigers really couldn't have selected a better candidate to step up to the plate trailing by a run with men on first and second and two outs. And with a 1-1 count, Cabrera hit a no-doubter to right-center field, his Major League-leading 19th home run of the season.
"I got like one hit in 20 at-bats," Cabrera said. "I wanted to drive the run in to tie the game. I was focused to make my best swing and just try to make something happen."
While Leyland credited Cabrera for his homer, the Tigers skipper said the play of the game came a batter earlier. The Pirates elected to bring in left-hander Javier Lopez to face lefty hitter Johnny Damon. Damon coaxed a two-out walk, opening the door for the Tigers' slugger to do some damage.
"The left-handed specialist came in to get the left-handed hitter and he walked him," Leyland said. "That was the key to the game. That's happened to us sometimes. When they come in, they have to get those lefties out. It's a whole different ballgame with Cabrera hitting with two guys on, than it is with him leading off the [ninth] inning."
Pirates manager John Russell agreed.
"You don't want their best hitter coming to the plate right there," Russell said. "That's why we brought [Lopez] in. We felt like we had a good chance to get out of it. It didn't [work]. You can't walk guys late in games. We know that. It ended up hurting us."
For the second straight game, the Tigers' early offensive difficulties nearly spoiled an impressive pitching performance. In his first game back at Comerica Park since his near perfect game, Armando Galarraga had good stuff but took the no-decision. He allowed just two runs on six hits in 7 2/3 innings.
Galarraga battled through most of the game on a strict diet of fastballs and changeups. His slider didn't have the late movement that was so lethal in his previous home outing. But he forced the Pirates' hitters into uncomfortable swings despite not notching a single strikeout.
"I used my changeup in 2-2 counts a lot and got a lot of fly balls and ground balls," Galarraga said. "These guys were super aggressive. I only had a 3-2 count like twice. That's good for me. I like to see the first-pitch swing or the second-pitch swing."
Galarraga received some help from the outfield, which went most of the game without everyday center fielder Austin Jackson, who exited in the bottom of the first inning with lower back spasms.
In the first inning, Don Kelly made a diving catch in left field. Then in the fourth, right fielder Brennan Boesch followed suit with a diving play of his own.
Galarraga only really struggled against Garrett Jones. The Pirates first baseman hit a solo home run in the second inning and drove in another run with a ground-rule double in the fourth.
The defense and pitching were up to par, but the offense lagged behind, as the story has been for many games this season for the Tigers.
But Leyland was more frustrated with Saturday's game than he was with Sunday's. On Saturday, the Tigers were able to get runners on base but failed to bring them home before Guillen's walk-off. Sunday, the Tigers just ran into a solid outing from Pirates starter Jeff Karstens, who went a season-high seven-plus innings and allowed two runs.
Alex Avila was responsible for the Tigers' first run. The rookie catcher rocked a first-pitch sinker over the fence in straight-away center field, by far the deepest area in Comerica Park.
"I hit it well enough that it had a chance," Avila said. "But you never can be too sure, unless you are Miguel."
Cabrera's home run came against Pirates closer Octavio Dotel, a close friend of the Tigers slugger. Before his home run, Cabrera was only 2-for-11 in his career with one home run and 11 strikeouts against Dotel.
"Today was one of those days that he got better luck than I," Dotel said. "I just threw my pitch and he hit it. I think it was a good location, but he's a great professional hitter. There's nothing I can do."
Even though Cabrera was struggling in the series, the Tigers had confidence he would get the job done when he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning.
"He's in a class all by himself," Damon said. "This park could be the only thing keeping him from winning the Triple Crown. He's that good. The thing is that he still has a chance to be a Triple Crown candidate even playing in this big ballpark. It really shows how good he is."
The Tigers would obviously prefer to post more runs throughout the duration of the game. But winning in such dramatic fashion in back-to-back games was certainly enjoyable.
"It's great," Damon said. "Obviously, we wish we could have the lead early on. But we will take winning any way possible. It reminds me a lot of what we did with the [defending World Series champions] Yankees last year. We had a lot of comeback wins. This feels no different."
Alex DiFilippo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.