Phoenix — This time, there was no bullpen trauma, and no dissecting a manager’s moves, all because the Tigers finally heated up enough lights on Chase Field’s scoreboard to avoid calamity.
They got 13 hits Wednesday at Chase Field and beat the Diamondbacks, 11-5, with Miguel Cabrera’s three-run, lightning-bolt home run off the left-field foul pole the biggest hit of the day.
“We really haven’t broken out in a game since before the (All-Star) break,” said Brad Ausmus, the Tigers manager who had watched a series sweep of the Diamondbacks dissolve Tuesday when cool bats and a bad bullpen ruined Detroit’s night.
“I felt like we could have won three. But we’ll take two out of three.”
They might not have gotten Wednesday’s series clincher had two lifeguards in the persons of Miguel Cabrera and Joba Chamberlain not shown up.
Cabrera, who was fuming after he just missed hitting a pitch to Flagstaff in the seventh, caught one flush in the eighth. On the eighth pitch of a sweat-stained at-bat aginst Matt Stites, Cabrera got a change-up and rammed it on a line against the left-field foul pole for a three-run homer, his 15th of the season, and good for his 78th, 79th, and 80th RBIs of the season.
It turned a 8-5 game into an 11-5 dance party for the Tigers, who are preparing for more serious times this weekend as a four-game series against the Angels begins Thursday at Anaheim.
Cabrera’s homer was helpful for another reason. It all but protected the bullpen from any game-gutting mishaps, a dark scenario that began to grow as the Tigers and Anibal Sanchez let a 7-0 lead all but slide away.
Of course, with Joba Chamberlain fresh and ready Wednesday, Ausmus could play his bullpen trump card. And he did in the seventh after the Diamondbacks had cut the lead to 7-5. There were two on, one out, and Chase Field muscleman Paul Goldschmidt on his way to the plate as Ausmus excused Sanchez and turned to Chamberlain, even if he prefers that his set-up man arrive no earlier than the eighth.
Chamberlain’s favored two pitches are a fastball and slider. But, with Goldschmidt cranking up, eager to send a reliever’s first serve into Arizona’s blue yonder, catcher Alex Avila called for a curveball and Chamberlain dropped it low.
Goldschmidt slapped a ground ball to shortstop Andrew Romine who joined Ian Kinsler on a whipcrack-fast double play that ended the inning — and any serious comeback notions for manager Kirk Gibson’s team.
“Amazing,” said Sanchez, who had some ugly middle innings against the Diamondbacks but still got the victory. “To me, that was the game right there.”
Chamberlain, in his last 16 games and 14 innings, has only allowed a single earned run. His ERA during that stretch: 0.64.
“Alex had a great plan,” Chamberlain said as he and Avila decided to stay away from Goldschmidt’s dinner-plate preference and serve a curveball that might more easily be chopped on the ground.
“We knew Goldie would be aggressive. And I executed a pitch.”
Ausmus has been witness to all of Chamberlain’s executions in 2014. Again after Wednesday’s game, the Tigers manager had to acknowledge Chamberlain “has probably been our most consistent pitcher, period.”
The Tigers never planned for any late-innings drama Wednesday. Not after they scored twice in the second on Avila’s two-run double up the left-center field gap, and then five more times in the fourth, with Austin Jackson’s two-run double — it hit and skipped past a diving Goldschmidt in left — the inning’s big blast.
Jackson has now had multiple hits in nine of his last 10 games and is batting .270 after falling to .238 at the start of the month.
Cabrera, likewise, is heating up: .315, with longer drives now becoming part of his arsenal, in step with old times.
Ausmus had sensed Cabrera was getting closer following his seventh-inning at-bat that saw him fly deep to left-center.
“If he catches that ball another 8th-of-an-inch,” Ausmus said, “that’s a 450-foot homer.”
Rajai Davis played left field Wednesday and batted second as Ausmus rearranged his batting order, hoping to get more speed at the top, and more wood in the lineup’s deeper regions.
Davis had three hits, while Cabrera (batting cleanup) and Victor Martinez (No. 5) each had two hits, as did Don Kelly, who started Wednesday in right field.
Afterward, Chamberlain was talking about his year in Detroit, which began as a mutual gamble between himself and the Tigers. They would opt for a bare-bones one-year contract.
Now, he has become the biggest surprise, and on many days the most essential pitcher, on a team’s 25-man roster.
“I’ve been fortunate to stay in a routine for most of this year,” he said, shaking his head at the good times he, and the Tigers, have together forged.
And then, acknowledging that not all times have been happy through tough years with the Yankees and ligament surgery, he said: “There’s nothing in this game I haven’t experienced before.”
He and his manager only hope there are a few more days ahead to match Wednesday’s prize. One pitch, as Sanchez said so succinctly, “was the whole game.”