DETROIT -- The defining mark of the Tigers' success over the last decade or so has been the home run. The defining struggles of their offense this year has seemingly been the big swing trying to do too much for a big hit.
"You have to throw strikes," Cabrera said, shrugging.
It's not glamorous. The Tigers don't need that right now.
"Guys get caught up, especially in extra innings or the bottom of the ninth, wanting to be the hero," manager Brad Ausmus said. "They want the walk-off home run, and you really have to relax yourself and take what they give you."
Relievers Jeff Beliveau and Lucas Harrell, the latter a former Tigers farmhand, gave the Tigers free passes. Cabrera's first career walk-off walk punctuated a game-winning rally built without a base hit. Three Tigers walks and a Josh Donaldson two-out error created the assembly line that put the deciding run on and moved him along, 90 feet at a time, in methodical fashion.
It began, fittingly, with catcher Alex Avila working out of an 0-2 count, declining to chase a Beliveau pitch out of the strike zone. His 40th walk in 233 plate appearances this season was his fifth after an 0-2 count. Domingo Santana, Aaron Judge and Steven Souza Jr. entered Sunday with more among Major League hitters.
"On 0-2, typically guys want to protect the strike zone, and that's when you end up chasing," Avila said. "You have to be really disciplined not to chase that one just off the plate, down and away. Maybe it just comes from catching and seeing pitchers, a lot of times you go 0-2 and before you know it, it's 2-2.
"To be honest with you, my approach doesn't change a whole lot from 0-0 to 0-2. I still want the ball over the plate, and if it's not there, I'm not going to swing. Sometimes it's hurt me, where I'll get rung up on pitches. But you have to take the good with the bad."
The Tigers had been running with abandon on Blue Jays backup catcher Miguel Montero, but with their catcher,James McCann, already out of the game, Avila had to run. Jose Iglesias sacrificed him to second base before Ian Kinsler lined out against Harrell.
Nicholas Castellanos hit a slow roller down the third-base line that Donaldson bobbled, an error that moved Avila to third and kept the inning alive for Justin Upton and Cabrera.
The Jays pitched around Upton earlier this series with Cabrera struggling, but with the game on the line, the last thing the Jays needed was Cabrera up and no place to put him. Yet five pitches later, after walking Upton, that's what they had.
Harrell caught Cabrera off-guard with a first-pitch breaking ball that dropped in for a strike as Cabrera flinched. Harrell tried another one on the outside corner, but didn't get the call. Cabrera shrugged at a slider in the dirt and fastball up and in, putting him a ball away from victory.
"He's got to throw strikes," Cabrera said. "The at-bat before, I swung at two bad pitches. I was focused on swinging at a strike right there."
Harrell challenged him with back-to-back fastballs over the plate. Cabrera took the first to run the count full, then fouled off the second.
Harrell went back to the fastball for the seventh pitch of the at-bat, putting it just off the plate. Cabrera didn't move.
Cabrera has seven walk-off homers in his career. Asked to compare his first walk-off walk, he deadpanned.
"Slow," he said.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.