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Unlikely tandem carries Tigers to third straight win

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — Miguel Cabrera and Andrew Romine.

They were the stars of the Tigers’ 9-4 romp over the Twins Wednesday night. Thunder and … Utility? Thunder and Clutch? Thunder and Grit?

For sure Cabrera brought the thunder. He followed up his three-hit night Tuesday with four more, including his 28th home run of the season, a 421-footer to the berm in center field.

He also doubled twice and singled. He is 9 for his last 13 at-bats and had two cracks at hitting a triple to complete the cycle — he grounded out in the seventh and doubled in the ninth.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 9, Twins 4

“I’ve been watching that on ESPN for a long time,” said Justin Upton, who continued his reign of offensive terror, capping a five-run third inning with a 427-foot, three-run home run off the facing of the second deck in left. “It’s fun to watch.”

In his last 31 games, Cabrera has been mashing the baseball -- .393 average, .726 slugging with nine doubles, 10 home runs and 27 RBIs.

The four-hit game was the 44th of his career.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he's  had 44 of them,” manager Brad Ausmus joked. “We’ve probably combined for 50 of them.”

The Tigers have scored 27 runs in the last three games, that after mustering 11 in the previous six.

“It’s just guys going out every night and giving ourselves a chance to compete and win,” said Upton, who since his three-day benching is 8-for-16 with three, two-out, three-run homers. “It’s been fun.”

But just as significant as all that bashing was the more subtle contributions of Romine.

Getting the start at second base in place of a resting Ian Kinsler, he executed a 4-3 double play to get starter Matt Boyd out of a mess in the first inning. He worked a 10-pitch walk with two outs in the sixth that forced the Twins to burn another reliever and, in a 6-3 game in the eighth, he delivered a clutch, two-out, two-strike, two-run single to break the game open.

“He’s kind of embraced his role now in the last two years,” Ausmus said. “Not only as a Tiger, but being the guy that can play anywhere at any time. He knows he’s not going to get a bunch of at-bats, but when he does, he grinds them out.

“He takes his role seriously. He knows he’s not Miguel Cabrera. He’s not going to hit the ball 450 feet. But he still can have an impact on the team’s offense by having good at-bats and driving in the occasional run.”

Justin Upton of the Detroit Tigers rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning.

Boyd, who fought his way through six innings allowing only three runs, was struggling in the first inning. He had already been touched for a run and had the bases loaded with one out when the speedy Eduardo Escobar hit a one-hopper to Romine.

Romine smartly ran the runner from first, Jorge Polanco, out of the baseline for the first out, then threw Escobar out at first.

“It was the only choice I had,” Romine said. “I guess I could have just gotten the out at second, or just the out at first. But I figured I could run him out of the baseline and he’s automatically out, then still have time to get the guy at first.

“I didn’t have time to throw to second and still get the guy at first.”

Romine said the two-run single in the eighth was his biggest contribution, but the 10-pitch walk with two outs in the sixth may pay dividends with a matinee start on Thursday. It forced the Twins to get reliever Ryan O’Rourke out of the game and use another — their bullpen has thrown 11 innings the last two games.

Zimmermann's first rehab start is Friday in Toledo

“I thought I was going to hit about six of those pitches hard somewhere, but I kept fouling them back,” he said. “They had late movement on them. But that was a big at-bat and kind of a turning point. They had to get another pitcher in, and we got that pitcher out and it helped extend our offense and we were able to tack on a couple more runs later.”

For Boyd, despite the rocky first, it was his eighth straight start allowing three runs or less. He gave up just two hits after the first – solo homers to Robbie Grossman and Brian Dozier. And he struck out a career-best seven.

“I was a little worried about it in the first,” Ausmus said, referencing Boyd’s 28-pitch inning. “If we had to take him out early, we’d end up using our entire bullpen with a 12:10 p.m. (local) game time tomorrow.

“But he was able to muscle through that first and settle down.”

With the Indians losing at Oakland Wednesday, the Tigers have cut the deficit in the Central Division to 5.5 games. And with seven games left against the Indians, they still have the ability to control their destiny in the division.

“We need to make a push right now, so this was a big win,” Romine said. “But I think it’s a little early for (scoreboard watching). It’s not even September yet. There’s a lot of baseball left.”

Twitter: @cmccosky