'Like normal again': Miguel Cabrera slams Tigers past Rays

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Miguel Cabrera, left, is greeted by Nicholas Castellanos, center, and Christin Stewart after hitting a grand slam during the fifth inning of Tuesday's 9-6 win.

Detroit — Apparently, Miguel Cabrera wanted to let his performance Tuesday speak for itself.

After he posted three hits, including his fifth career grand slam, and knocked in five runs in the Tigers' 9-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Comerica Park, he was showered and gone before the media was let into the Tigers' clubhouse.

"It was a big moment, but he's had so many of them," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Where do you rank it?"

Considering it was his first grand slam since June 1, 2013. Considering it came against Blake Snell, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winnner. Considering he spent the last three days wondering if he was going to need surgery to repair his chronically sore right knee. 

Considering the grand slam in the fifth inning ended up providing the margin of victory — it probably ranked pretty high, at least in the moment.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 9, Rays 6

"It kind of felt like we've been waiting for that big hit for weeks now," catcher Grayson Greiner said. "We've had some big hits lately, but when Miggy steps up and hits a grand slam at home with the crowd into it, in a tie game off last year's Cy Young winner — that was a big moment.

"You could see by the smile on his face how good it felt for him. He's our guy and we just wanted to get behind him and celebrate that moment."

A few hours earlier, Cabrera held court with the media expressing how relieved he was to be back in the lineup, even though the knee issue is chronic and that his days of playing defense are, at least for the foreseeable future, over.

“I’ve been dealing with this for two months,” he said. “I know I can play with this, but in Atlanta I was worried something bad was going to come. That’s why I asked to check my knee and do an MRI. I wanted to make sure it was nothing big.

“I just have to deal with it, the soreness and the pain that’s going to come with it. My goal is to go out there and do my job.”

Don't put him out to pasture just yet.

Cabrera came to bat in the first inning with two outs and a runner at third base. Brandon Dixon, a player still trying to find himself at the big-league level, was on deck.

Two years ago, Cabrera would have been walked intentionally. Even against a pitcher of Snell's talent, he would have at least been pitched very carefully. He certainly wouldn’t have seen a fastball in the strike zone in a 3-2 count.

But, Cabrera is 36 and had been out of the lineup for two games with soreness in his right knee. It was acknowledged before that game that the pain is chronic and will be with him the rest of his career. Snell, like pitchers have all year, challenged him with a fastball.

Guess what? As Gardenhire said before the game, Cabrera can still hit.

Cabrera lashed a sinking liner to right field that bounced past a diving Guillermo Heredia for an RBI double and the Tigers were on their way.

"I told you, he's a Hall-of-Famer, and I'm going to enjoy watching him play," Gardenhire said. "That's what I did tonight...To me, it was just like normal again. He has fun in the game. He's always smiling, good at-bats, bad at-bats — he's always got something to laugh about.

"I'm sure it was a big moment for him. But he doesn't react like that. All the guys were excited, especially after everything he's been through in the last week." 

That was just Cabrera's warm-up.

Snell retired 10 straight hitters until JaCoby Jones, extending his career-long hitting streak to 10 games, singled with one out in the fifth inning. Niko Goodrum followed with his second hit.

Left-handed swinging Christin Stewart, who struck out twice against the lefty Snell, foiled the Rays’ defensive shift with a single through the vacated shortstop hole that scored Jones and tied the game at 2.

After Snell walked Nick Castellanos, Cabrera strode to the plate again, this time with the bases loaded. Snell got ahead 1-2 with 97-mph heaters. But, knowing Cabrera beat him with a fastball earlier, he tried to flip a curveball on him.

Cabrera stayed on it and hoisted it over the left-field fence.

"The whole dugout exploded," said Tigers starter Ryan Carpenter, who pitched seven strong innings and allowed just two runs. "That boosted everyone."

The home run, No. 468 of his career, tied Cabrera with Chipper Jones for 34th in Major League Baseball history. His three hits put him at 2,734 and sent him past Tony Perez into 59th place all-time.

"Miggy's always been able to hit," Gardenhire said. "You know it and I know it. I don't think it has anything to do with being on a mission. He got in there today against a really good pitcher and he did what great hitters do — they hit good pitching."

Carpenter, who was twice drafted by the Rays but unceremoniously released three years after he signed, had a little extra fire for this one.

"To say it felt good would be an understatement," he said. "It's one of those things where five or six days ago when I found out who I was throwing against, it put a smile on my face. 

"Now I have a bigger one."

It was the first time in Carpenter's big-league career he pitched seven full innings. And, speaking to how efficient he was, he needed just 84 pitches. He gave up seven hits, four of them in the third inning.

The only damage was a two-run, opposite-field home run by former Tiger Avisail Garcia, who as 11 on the year.

"He had a couple of rough starts when he first came up but he didn't sulk," Greiner said. "He continued to work. And against a first-place team, one of the best teams in the American League, he gave us seven really good innings."

In retrospect, Gardenhire might've let Carpenter pitch the eighth inning, too. 

With the Tigers up 9-2, he gave the ball to setup man Joe Jimenez — a low-leverage inning to get him back on track after he gave up four runs in Sunday's loss in Atlanta.

Didn't work that way. Jimenez walked two and needed 25 pitches to get two outs. Gardenhire had to pull him. 

Buck Farmer got two quick strikes on Christian Arroyo, but hit him on the hand with a fastball. Next up was former Tigers prospect Willy Adames, playing his first game at Comerica Park.

Farmer fell behind 2-0, then threw two 96-mph fastball by him to even the count. Adames took a slider just out of the strike zone, and then mashed a 3-2 fastball into the seats in the left field — his first career grand slam. 

"Yeah, this is my first time here, so this is special," Adames said. "I saw a couple of my ex-teammates and I got to see Miggy. too. You know, he’s kind of everybody’s idol, so that was cool." 

The drama ended there, though. Shane Greene worked around an infield single in the ninth to earn his American League-leading 19th save.


Twitter: @cmccosky