It's going to take a lot for the Tigers to make up their deficit to the White Sox, which stood at 11 games entering this series. The key to getting it down to 10 games was avoiding the feeling of having to do too much.
To manager Jim Leyland, not trying for too much goes especially for Cabrera. But after Cabrera seemed to be putting the weight of the Tigers on his shoulders, Leyland thinks Cabrera is settling down.
"I think Miguel's coming around," Leyland said. "I think he's starting to relax. I think he's starting to feel more comfortable. I think he's starting to understand that we just want him to be a part of the team. He doesn't have to do any more than anybody else. Just help out, do your part, and good concentration. He's working hard defensively, and I think there's a possibility he's starting to get on a roll.
"But I don't want him to put pressure on himself. I just want him to relax and play."
He wants Cabrera to relax at the same time that he needs his team to play with some urgency. He talked about the need to start winning series from here on out, but he also admitted they'll need some stumbling from the White Sox to get back into the division race. This series marks their only chance to directly make up ground against the White Sox in head-to-head meetings until they meet again in late July.
Considering Chicago took five of six from Detroit in April to send the Tigers on their way to a 2-10 start, however, their head-to-head matchups have hurt more than helped. Tuesday looked to be headed the same way after Jim Thome's second-inning solo homer and A.J. Pierzynski's RBI single in the third handed a 2-0 lead to Contreras, who held Detroit scoreless on two singles and a walk through the first three innings.
One of those singles was a broken-bat liner from Cabrera, who entered the night 4-for-7 in his career against Contreras. He came up again in the fourth and doubled on an opposite-field fly ball towards the right-field line before Jeff Larish singled him in to put the Tigers on the scoreboard.
"He does a great job," Larish said. "I think his track record proves that he's a great hitter and he's got a great approach."
Three consecutive singles in the fifth tied the game and set up the go-ahead tallies. Brent Clevlen led off the rally and scored when center fielder Nick Swisher mishandled Placido Polanco's single for an error. Carlos Guillen's sacrifice bunt moved Polanco and Curtis Granderson to second and third before Contreras erased a potential sacrifice fly situation with a shallow fly ball from Magglio Ordonez.
That brought up Cabrera, who was 1-for-8 with four strikeouts in situations with a runner on third and two outs this season. Like the double in his previous at-bat, Cabrera went after a first-pitch fastball. This time, he sent it into center field.
It wasn't play-of-the-night material, but it didn't have to be. Granderson and Polanco both scored, and the Tigers had a lead they never relinquished.
It's not that Leyland thought Cabrera was aiming for the fences earlier in the season, but he thought Cabrera might've been aiming to make a point and instead proving nothing.
"It takes time for all that [pressure] to blow over," Leyland said. "I really believe that. The whole talk, the whole trade, the whole contract, it takes time to get past all that for anybody. I don't care what anybody says. For the most part, when [a big trade] happens with anybody on any team, right away they go to a new team, put pressure on themselves to do good. People are talking about their contract. People are talking about the trade. That all just clogs the mind for a while.
"So I think that's starting to get out of there. I think he's starting to relax. He's a Tiger. He's going to be a Tiger for a long time. And I think he's going to be a really good Tiger for a long time."
Clevlen's RBI single in the sixth and Ordonez's run-scoring infield single in the seventh provided some much-needed cushion for starter Nate Robertson (4-6), whose three runs allowing over 6 1/3 innings marked his first quality start since May 24. But Clevlen's biggest contribution came in the field while the White Sox rallied in the eighth.
After Freddy Dolsi balked in a run when he stumbled on the mound, cutting the lead to two runs, he struck out Paul Konerko but stayed in the game to face the left-handed hitting Thome. With the Tigers bullpen short following Monday's loss, Leyland didn't have many options.
Thome hit a line drive to left, which should've put the potential tying run on base. However, Carlos Quentin rounded third and tried to score on the strong-armed Clevlen, who threw a liner back to home plate to easily retire Quentin at the plate.
"I had to make sure to field it cleanly first and [then] make sure I make a good throw," Clevlen said. "And I did both of those."
That's about as close to a heroic play as the Tigers had. But then, part of their problem this season has been trying for too many.