Cabrera, Thames slug Tigers to win

Cabrera, Thames slug Tigers to win

DETROIT -- Maybe all the Tigers needed to break out of their offensive struggles was a black cat to cross their path, or at least their batting cage.

CC Sabathia's trade from Cleveland to Milwaukee might not have hurt, either.

"We kind of live and die with hitting the ball in the gap and over the fence," manager Jim Leyland said after a two-homer, four-hit night from Miguel Cabrera highlighted a much-needed Detroit onslaught in Tuesday's 9-2 win over the Indians.

"Tonight we hit a few over the fence and we broke it open a little bit. That's kind of our style of play."

The Tigers returned home on Tuesday having scored two runs or fewer in four of their past five games. They needed 15 innings for a second run to beat the Mariners on Sunday. They managed just five runs over the final three games of the four-game series at Seattle, and three of them came on solo homers.

On Tuesday, they seemed to have left all that on the West Coast.

Cabrera hadn't enjoyed a multi-homer game as a member of the Tigers until this one, and given his nagging left hip flexor, it was a good day for him to stroll around the bases rather than run. Marcus Thames broke out an 0-for-16 slump with a double, a rare opposite-field home run and three RBIs. Even Edgar Renteria ended his hitless streak at 23 at-bats, one shy of his career high, with a single in his last plate appearance.

Good matchup or good omen, something clicked for the Tigers on this night.

"It was fun," Cabrera said. "I keep telling the guys to put the ball in play -- base hits -- and something good will happen."

Their afternoon visitor didn't seem like a good sign. With rain forcing the Tigers inside for batting practice, they were in the cage when someone heard the sounds of a cat's meow. Matt Joyce grabbed a chair, took a look above the cage and found a black kitten tangled in the wires and cables of the stadium.

Joyce and some teammates took the kitten into the clubhouse and fed it, then Tigers personnel found an animal rescue program to help out. But the superstition was not lost.

Some players got a kick out of it. Others stayed away. Starting pitcher Justin Verlander avoided it because he's allergic to cats. Cabrera avoided it for the superstition.

"I thought that was hilarious," Joyce said. "I said, 'Yeah, this thing's gonna bring us good luck.'"

Perhaps it did, though another part of the Tigers' luck might've come with Sabathia's trade on Monday.

What was expected to be a matchup of American League Central titans when the season began has long since lost its luster. The Indians also lost their ace when they dealt Sabathia -- 7-2 in his career at Comerica Park -- to Milwaukee on Monday. Jeremy Sowers started in Sabathia's place, and the Tigers pounced.

Sowers (0-5) retired seven of Detroit's first eight batters before Ryan Raburn's double sparked a four-run third inning. Curtis Granderson singled in Raburn and scored on Thames' double before Cabrera drove the first pitch that he saw deep to left for his third home run in his last four games.

"He stepped up, obviously," Leyland said of Cabrera. "We're seeing more and more of what we know we've got. Lately, he's been coming up big."

A two-out single from Placido Polanco extended the fifth inning, allowing Thames to get in on the power game. Normally a pull hitter, Thames lofted a ball to the opposite field that kept carrying until it fell into the first row of fans behind the right-field fence for his 17th home run on the season.

Granderson's RBI in the sixth finished Sowers' outing with six earned runs on 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings. Brian Slocum ended the sixth before Cabrera and Ivan Rodriguez hit seventh-inning solo shots.

Like Thames' homer, this Cabrera shot went out to right. This opposite-field homer, however, was a line drive that was just high enough to get above the fence.

"Two fastballs -- one inside, one outside," Cabrera said of his homers. "I got them out."

The fact that it came in his final at-bat of the night with the lead already comfortable was as encouraging for Tigers coaches as the hit total itself.

"I was really pleased with everybody's effort, and particularly Miguel's," hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said. "When you have a game like that, that's when you really have to get greedy and bear down, become a little selfish and try to get that extra knock. Tonight he showed why he's a tremendous talent."

By then, Tigers starter Justin Verlander (6-9) was cruising towards victory anyway, having retired the final 14 batters he faced. Casey Blake doubled and scored in the second inning when Jhonny Peralta drove an offspeed pitch deep to left for his 14th home run of the year, the only damage to Verlander on the night.

Not only did Verlander send down one batter after another, he did it efficiently after high pitch counts in his previous three starts. He worked through seven innings in 99 pitches, 65 of them strikes, and he reached just one three-ball count over the final four innings.

"It wasn't so much settling down," Verlander said. "It was just a few mistakes that got hit. I had a good rhythm the whole game, threw quality strikes and got guys out."

It was a night when the Tigers as a whole had a rhythm. They're not keeping the cat, but they're hoping to keep the luck.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.