Detroit Tigers veteran Miguel Cabrera, appearing as happy as ever, swayed his shoulders, laughed and celebrated with his teammates upon crossing first base in the bottom of the ninth inning.
“He did a little Conor McGregor, whatever that was,” outfielder Robbie Grossman said. “I gotta ask him about it.”
Jonathan Schoop, the game-winning run, touched home plate and tossed his arms in the air. Thanks to Cabrera’s single, the 14th walk-off hit of his career, the Tigers topped the Cleveland Guardians, 4-3, in the first of four games between the American League Central foes at Comerica Park.
“Miggy is putting up such good at-bats and contributing,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s fun to see. That’s a good win for us, coming off the win yesterday with another good performance. Miggy sent everybody home happy.”
The Tigers (16-28) boast back-to-back wins and kicked off a nine-game homestand with a much-needed victory.
Cabrera’s single scored Schoop, who doubled with one out and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Cleveland reliever Trevor Stephan. To drive in Schoop, Cabrera drilled a 1-2 fastball from Stephan into center field.
With his 3-for-4 performance, Cabrera is hitting .300 across 39 games in 2022. It’s his highest batting average through his first 39 games in a season since starting 2015 with a .333 average.
“You see how happy he is,” Grossman said. “He just loves to win. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around, and that’s what makes him great.”
Left-hander Tarik Skubal completed seven innings on 102 pitches (73 strikes) for the Tigers, allowing three runs on five hits and one walk with five strikeouts. The 25-year-old has a 2.44 ERA in nine starts this season, along with a 1.45 ERA across five starts in May.
“Being able to eat innings, especially coming off a bullpen day, was my goal going into today,” Skubal said. “And then obviously coming away with a win was important, no matter how they come. … I’m glad we won today.”
After the second inning, Skubal officially completed 21 scoreless innings in a row, the longest streak for an MLB starter this season. He passed Joe Ryan (Minnesota Twins) and Miles Mikolas (St. Louis Cardinals), both with 20 scoreless innings earlier this season.
Former Tiger Justin Verlander, pitching for the Houston Astros, has an active streak of 19 scoreless.
Right-handed reliever Jason Foley pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Lefty Gregory Soto, the Tigers’ closer, entered in the ninth to hold the tie. He worked around a one-out double from Oscar Gonzalez, retiring Ernie Clement (strikeout on three pitches) and Oscar Mercado (flyout).
Three early runs but missed opportunities
The Tigers struck first in the first inning, thanks to three of four batters reaching safely against right-handed starter Konnor Pilkington, making his fifth appearance and second start of his MLB career.
Grossman led off with a single, and Cabrera drew a one-out walk to set the table for Javier Báez. He delivered an RBI single on a grounder into right for a 1-0 advantage.
“We’re a completely different team when we play from ahead,” Hinch said. “We can be a momentum team, too. That was nice in the first to get a run, but it felt like we left a couple out there in that first inning. And then we scored a couple in the second.”
With two outs, Spencer Torkelson took a walk to load the bases.
Daz Cameron flied out to right field in foul territory, stranding the bases loaded, though, allowing Pilkington to escape further damage. Still, the Tigers forced him to throw 28 pitches.
In the second, the Tigers added two runs for a 3-0 lead.
Schoop plated Derek Hill with a sacrifice fly to center, then Cabrera shot a 3-2 changeup through the hole and into right field for an RBI single. The 39-year-old scored Grossman, who doubled before Schoop’s plate appearance for his second hit in as many at-bats.
“It’s good to put the ball in play,” said Grossman, who tallied two hits for the third time in May. “When you do that, good things happen. I’m looking forward to coming back tomorrow and doing the same thing.”
The Tigers chased Pilkington with one out in the fourth inning, as the 24-year-old walked Grossman on seven pitches, walked Schoop on five pitches and allowed a single to Cabrera to juice the bases.
With Báez coming to the plate, the Guardians turned to righty reliever Enyel De Los Santos. The decision to go to the bullpen paid off for Cleveland: Báez struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt and Jeimer Candelario flied out to shallow left field.
The Tigers stranded the bases loaded twice in the first four innings.
Skubal not perfect but in control
In the third inning, the Guardians snapped Skubal’s scoreless streak by tacking on three runs.
Mercado opened the third with a single and scored from first base on the ensuing double down the third-base line by Luke Maile. Grossman, the left fielder, had trouble getting to the ball, which ricocheted off the wall in foul territory.
That allowed Maile to cross home easily.
With two outs, Owen Miller connected on Skubal’s 0-2 curveball. Miller put the ball back up the middle and into left-center field, just past a diving Báez. Myles Straw and Amed Rosario scored on the play.
“I didn’t do a good job protecting the lead,” Skubal said. “I need to do a better job of limiting that inning to one run. That curveball, 0-2, just needs to be better location. But it already happened, and I was able to keep us in the game for as long as possible.”
Outside of the 32-pitch third inning, Skubal worked efficiently. He fired eight pitches in the first inning, 16 pitches in the second, nine pitches in the fourth, 15 pitches in the fifth, eight pitches in the sixth and 14 pitches in the seventh.
The final two batters Skubal faced, Mercado and Maile, struck out swinging. He punched out Mercado with a 96 mph four-seamer, then got Maile with a 93.9 mph four-seamer.
“Just a messy (third) inning that ends in a tie game, and we didn’t do much offensively after that,” Hinch said. “And Skubal just took over the game. He was like, ‘They’re not scoring again.’ It was very impressive with how he went about it. Even at the end, he was fighting to stay in after 100 pitches. He knew he had a lot of responsibility tonight.”
Skubal also had two strikeouts against Miller.
He beat Miller on three pitches to begin the second inning and three pitches to begin the sixth. Both strikeouts included back-to-back changeups with the second and third pitches of the at-bat.
For Skubal’s 102 pitches, he tossed 29 sliders, 29 four-seam fastballs, 19 changeups, 18 sinkers and seven curveballs. He produced 11 swings and misses — including six with his changeup — and 23 called strikes.
His slider and four-seamer each earned eight called strikes.
“I thought my fastball command was pretty good today,” Skubal said. “There were some that I missed down and missed middle, but that happens. I was able to keep guys off balance with that and move it around. The slider was also a big pitch for me today, just being able to throw that whenever.”