Cabrera's bat pulls Tigers to half-game behind Jays

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Atlanta — You don’t want to take him for granted. You shouldn’t take him for granted. But when you see him produce time after time after time, well, even his teammates give it the old ho-hum.

“It’s just Miggy,” Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos said. “It’s Miggy being Miggy. It’s no secret. It’s not a surprise. It’s not a new story. It’s Miguel Cabrera."

It’s greatness. That’s what it is.

Cabrera seems hell-bent on carrying the Tigers to the postseason, or at least as close he and his scorching bat can get them. He hit a pair of long home runs to dead center field Friday and knocked in three runs, leading the Tigers to a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

“I think he’s just a phenomenal baseball player,” Castellanos said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s spring training or taking live BP on the back fields in Lakeland or if it’s the World Series. Miggy is Miggy, man.”

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Braves 2

The Tigers once again have their playoff fate in their own hands. The Orioles beat the Yankees Friday and have possession of the first wild-card spot. The Blue Jays lost at Boston, which puts the Tigers just a half-game behind them for the second wild-card spot.

If the Tigers can win their three remaining games — two against the Braves and then the makeup game against the Indians on Monday — they would at least force a play-in tiebreaker for the second wild-card spot.

“We appreciate the help,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But we still have to take care of our business. These guys get it. They are a veteran group. They understand how it works. If we don’t take care of our business in Atlanta, the rest doesn’t matter.”

The Tigers staked starting pitcher Daniel Norris to a 3-0 lead in nine pitches.

“That was unbelievable,” said Norris, who pitched six scoreless innings before giving up a two-out, pinch-hit home run in the seventh to Brandon Snyder. “It completely changed my game plan. To go out with a lead like that, you are like, ‘All right, I’m going to attack these guys no matter what.'”

Cabrera hit a two-run home run in the first inning, which followed Ian Kinsler’s leadoff home run to start the game. It traveled 421 feet. The second one, his 38th of the season, went 410 feet. It was his sixth multi-homer game of the season, the most of his career.

It was also his third homer in three straight at-bats, going back to his winner in the rain-shortened win over Cleveland Wednesday.

“Imagine if he played his career in Baltimore, or in Yankee Stadium,” Castellanos said. “If Miggy played his entire career in New York stadium, with those dimensions, he’d have 500-plus home runs already and be considered pretty much the greatest hitter ever.

“Look at his swing. It’s modified to go out to center and right-center field. It’s not very friendly in Comerica Park to do that.”

After Cabrera singled and scored in the fifth inning, he had hit safely in 10 of his last 11 at-bats and knocked in 13 runs over his last five games.

In 62 games since July 20, not including Friday, Cabrera hit .352 with a 1.080 OPS, 18 homers and 52 RBIs.

It’s been a sensational surge, and the timing, Ausmus said, is not a coincidence.

“I don’t think it hurts that there was an opportunity he saw in front of him,” Ausmus said, meaning a postseason berth. “He’s always going to be one of the greatest hitters on the planet. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing when one of the greatest hitters on the planet becomes even more interested in what is happening in front of him.”

Cabrera gave Norris all the cushion he would need. Norris (4-2) wound up throwing a career-high 114 pitches in 6 2/3 innings, posting eight strikeouts. He whiffed five straight between the end of the fifth and the seventh.

The Braves' second run came in the eighth off reliever Bruce Rondon. Matt Kemp, who had flied out twice to the right-center field wall against Norris, hit his 35th home run. Francisco Rodriguez struck out the side in the ninth — his first outing in six days, since he gave up five runs in the ninth against the Royals.

“He was sharp and it was good to get him back in there,” Ausmus said. “But I’ll be honest, it wasn’t just to get him an inning. We needed to win the game. I knew it wasn’t a save situation, but to me, that’s a four-run save.”

Justin Upton hit his 30th home run of the season in the seventh, a loud, majestic shot to left field. He has hit 17 of those home runs since Aug. 20 — and in the last 34 games he’s hitting .323 with 40 RBIs.

Kinsler’s home run was his 28th this season — matching his total from the two previous seasons combined. It also ties Lou Whitaker for the club record for most homers in a season by a second baseman.

It was his eighth leadoff home run of the season and 40th of his career.

The Tigers have hit 210 home runs as a team, third most in franchise history and the most since the 1999 team hit 212.

“Somebody said this was just the 12th game we’ve had our full lineup all season,” Castellanos said. “Well, it’s a good time to have it. It’s not ideal. You’d like to have it for 162 games. But, better late than never.”

Twitter.com: @cmccosky