Instead of well-pitched starts gone awry in low-scoring games, or eighth-inning comebacks to overcome rough pitching performances, the Tigers saved everything for their first meeting with the Indians, the team that was supposed to be their main rivals in the American League Central.
They're tied with Cleveland now, but it's for fourth place in the division, not first. The way the Tigers looked in Wednesday's 13-2 romp, however, suggests they could make up ground on the rest of the division at a similar pace to which they've been scoring runs lately.
"That's the thing we want to see every day on the field -- scoring runs, defense, pitching," said Miguel Cabrera, who doubled his RBI total by driving in five runs and hitting an impressive two-run homer. "That's why they put together these guys. It doesn't surprise me, because I kind of think we have a good team that can do [regularly] what we're doing right now."
It was the first time they looked like this for a full game. It wasn't another late-inning comeback, but a near-complete game of domination with which the Tigers extended their winning streak to three.
Instead of another eighth-inning rally, Wednesday's big inning was the fifth, and they were already ahead by the time they put it together. At that point, Cabrera had driven in all three runs and provided the highlight of the game with his second home run in as many nights.
After retiring the side in order in the opening inning, Indians starter C.C. Sabathia led off the second with a four-pitch walk to Magglio Ordonez. He tried to go with a steady diet of inside fastballs to Cabrera, but left a 1-1 pitch over the plate enough for Cabrera to take a flick at it. It was a nice, easy swing, and it ended up over the right-field fence.
Asked later how many players could hit a ball like that, Gary Sheffield said, "Not too many."
Ordonez simply pointed to Cabrera.
"He's a big boy," Ordonez said.
An inning later, Cabrera came up with two outs and Placido Polanco on second. This time, he pulled the first pitch from Sabathia on the ground and through the left side for another RBI.
At that point, it was an individual show. The Tigers were aggressively getting their hits off of the struggling Sabathia, who hasn't looked effective in any of his four starts this season, but Cabrera had the two big hits. And Sabathia was still getting through the innings with relative efficiency.
It was in the fifth inning when the Tigers finally broke Sabathia, and they did so in the first three batters without putting a ball in play.
Placido Polanco wouldn't chase Sabathia's pitches off the inside corner and ended up working out of a 1-2 count to earn a leadoff walk. Gary Sheffield fell into a 1-2 count and saw just about every pitch Sabathia threw and every corner of the plate approached.
Four times, Sheffield fouled off two-strike offerings, including a 3-2 offspeed pitch. Finally, he watched Sabathia's 10th pitch of the at-bat sail high for ball four.
"It was a huge at-bat," Ordonez said. "It made him throw a lot. It made him tired."
It also made the rest of the team a little better.
"That's the plan that we were supposed to do at the beginning of the season," Sheffield said. "Have quality at-bats, work a pitcher. I mean, it doesn't just help your at-bats. It helps other people's at-bats."
Ordonez got into the plan after falling into an 0-2 hole, fouling off one pitch before taking four balls. With ball four, Sabathia had thrown 23 pitches in the inning, retired nobody and loaded the bases for Cabrera.
"That was huge," manager Jim Leyland said. "We did work the pitcher better and caught a break, because C.C. didn't really have his control like he normally does. He's one of the best pitchers in all of baseball."
Cabrera started the parade of five straight Tigers hits, grounding an 0-2 pitch through the middle to drive in two. After Carlos Guillen singled on the next pitch, Edgar Renteria jumped Sabathia's first pitch of the count and his last of the game -- a fastball, sending it 400 feet to left.
It wasn't just Detroit's first grand slam of the season. It was the first time this year that the Tigers had hit anything more than a two-run homer.
"We had good at-bats," Renteria said. "It's tough to pitch after everyone's had good at-bats."
When Tom Mastny struck out Ivan Rodriguez for the first out of the inning, it came on Cleveland's 49th pitch of the inning. The Tigers had batted around and still had two outs to go. Whether it was Leyland's postgame talk with the team on Sunday or just the warmer weather this week, the Tigers waited out Sabathia and won. The left-hander gave up nine runs on eight hits in four-plus innings, walking five and striking out just one.
Instead, Armando Galarraga got the best of the unlikely matchup after being called up to replace an injured Dontrelle Willis in Detroit's rotation. The 26-year-old Venezuelan recovered from David Dellucci's first-inning solo homer to retire Cleveland's next 17 batters in order. A pair of hit-by-pitches eventually knocked him out in the seventh, but he was well on his way to his first Major League victory.
In stark contrast to Sabathia, Galarraga threw 56 of his 81 pitches for strikes while fanning six over 6 2/3 innings. He walked no one and reached just one three-ball count.
He worked this offseason on his location, he said, and he scouted Cleveland's hitters the past two nights watching their series against the Red Sox on television.
"I know they're struggling," Galarraga said, "so I tried to be in the zone, attack these guys, don't give them a chance."
To do that and not miss was impressive. To do that on this night just completed the evening.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.