Cabrera's clutch hits keep Tigers rolling
First baseman knocks in go-ahead run; Verlander sharp in start
DETROIT -- On the day the Tigers celebrated Christmas in July, there were no gifts for them on Thursday. The way the Blue Jays attacked Justin Verlander early and Ricky Romero baffled the Tigers for much of the afternoon, Thursday's 5-2 win was a game they had to earn.
All Miguel Cabrera needed was a go-ahead situation and a pitch he could hit. It took him a couple swings, but he got it. He didn't hit it out, but he hit Shawn Camp's changeup far in a hurry.
By the time the Tigers stopped hitting, they had a three-run lead and were on their way to cutting their division deficit to two games behind the idle White Sox.
"Even very good pitchers make mistakes," Cabrera said. "When you get a mistake, you have to hit it."
Romero is quickly falling into that caliber of ace pitcher in his second Major League season, and Cabrera sent a fastball of his so quickly to left field that it landed in the seats on a bounce, clearing the bullpen. Camp doesn't have the same regard, but the .178 batting average right-handed hitters have mustered against him deserves attention.
Twenty-four of the 114 right-handed hitters Camp has faced this year have struck out. He was a changeup away from doing the same with Cabrera, and that one would've been one of the biggest.
Johnny Damon's walk had chased Romero to start the bottom of the eighth, and Magglio Ordonez greeted Camp with a ground-ball single through the right side. Retiring Cabrera wouldn't have ended the threat for Camp; it would've only meant the first out. But with Brennan Boesch on the bench for a day and Carlos Guillen out for a personal matter, Camp had right-handed hitters Ryan Raburn and Scott Sizemore awaiting him.
Camp went at Cabrera with almost all offspeed pitches, getting Cabrera to swing and miss at a changeup over the plate and another that ducked below the knees. He had every reason to go back to the changeup. He ended up with little reason to regret the location.
"He pitched me good," Cabrera said. "He tried to get me off-balance. He made good pitches."
It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great. For Cabrera, that's enough.
"The one to Cabrera was the one I wish I could take back," Camp said. "But you obviously can't do that now."
Cabrera laced that one back to the fence. He didn't clear it, but he didn't have to. Damon scored, and Ordonez moved into position to come home on Gerald Laird's sacrifice fly.
"Every time he comes up, I'm like, 'OK, here we go,'" Danny Worth marveled.
Every time that happens, Cabrera is a little thankful. His two RBIs Thursday put him at 85 for the season, extending his Major League lead. Nobody else had more than 76 entering Thursday night.
"This year, I have to thank my teammates, because I've got a lot more situations for RBIs," Cabrera said. "I go up there and I don't want to give away any at-bats."
Cabrera is still second in the league in batting average and home runs, leaving the Triple Crown very much within reach.
Cabrera adjusted to the change of speeds. So, for that matter, did his starting pitcher. For that, Verlander moved among the American League leaders in wins.
What turned out to be a duel between Verlander and Romero for much of the afternoon began as an onslaught against Verlander by a Blue Jays lineup with plenty of punch. John Buck's two-run homer in the second inning was one of five extra-base hits from the Jays in the first three innings, three of them in a four-batter span in the second. Verlander didn't give up a single until he had two outs in the fourth.
After waiting through 25 pitches from Verlander in the opening inning, Toronto teed off in the second.
"It's just a game of adjustments," Verlander said. "I saw those guys were taking aggressive swings off fastballs, and I had to adjust my game a little bit."
All five of the aforementioned extra-base hits came off Verlander fastballs. He went with the heater on 34 of his 55 pitches through three innings, taking him nearly two times through the Jays' order.
"Seems like they were laying off a lot of the stuff with wrinkles," Laird said, referring to the offspeed stuff. "He started to see that."
Once Verlander came out to face Buck again in the fourth, he used a well-spotted breaking ball and a biting slider to get Toronto off its timing.
"Obviously they got the home run early," Verlander said," but those guys being aggressive allowed me to adjust my game and work deep into the game."
Verlander allowed just three hits from the fourth inning on. Only one of them went for extra bases, and his defense behind him erased it. Yunel Escobar saw a chance to turn his two-out gapper in the seventh into a triple ahead of Major League home run leader Jose Bautista, but the rookie trio of center fielder Austin Jackson, shortstop Worth and third baseman Scott Sizemore turned in a flawless relay to nab him at third.
"I saw him wheeling between first and second, and I saw it in his eyes," Worth said. "It was a close play."
Execution got the Tigers the play. Cabrera helped get the Tigers the lead.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.