Cabrera, Martinez carry Tigers past Mariners
Move to walk Miggy backfires as V-Mart belts go-ahead homer
SEATTLE -- The words coming from Victor Martinez answered the question rather humbly.
"If I'm a manager, I'll take the same chance with myself. I'd walk Miggy to pitch to myself," Martinez said after his go-ahead three-run homer Friday night. "There's no secret. Miggy's the best hitter in the game, and you can't let the best hitter in the game beat you."
The statement coming from Martinez's bat strongly suggests otherwise.
"Victor doesn't really need anything to fire him up for an at-bat," manager Brad Ausmus said, "But that's the one time I think you can see a difference in Victor, the handful of times that Miggy's been walked in front of him."
The bat answered the question of how well the Tigers' lineup would protect Miguel Cabrera a long time ago. On Friday, he added an exclamation point, following Cabrera's intentional pass in the fifth with the deciding blast in a 6-3 Tigers win over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
He went 2-for-4 to raise his AL-leading batting average to .347, and he again has as many home runs as strikeouts -- 13 apiece. His 13th homer, and his ninth in a two-strike count, accounted for half the Tigers' offense in their third win in four games. And yet, he's the one pitchers are supposed to be willing to take their chances trying to retire, not the back-to-back MVP batting in front of him.
Cabrera went 2-for-3 to raise his average to .328. The only American League hitter with a higher average right now is the guy batting behind him.
"They're still hitting .340. The odds are always in our favor," Justin Verlander said. "That being said, if I was on the other side, I don't know what I'd do."
That was the decision facing Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. He knew as well as anyone how dangerous of a hitter Martinez could be, having been his hitting coach for two years. He took his chances anyway.
The ending was fitting on a night when a potential pitching duel between All-Stars Justin Verlander and Hisashi Iwakuma instead became a home-run derby. Four homers accounted for nearly all of the scoring on the night, three of them off Tigers bats. While Cabrera's ninth home run of the year was the most majestic, opening the scoring in the third inning with a drive to the back of the Mariners' bullpen in left-center field, Martinez's 13th of the year was the biggest.
"One of the best at-bats I've ever seen," Verlander said.
Said Martinez: "It was a good one after fouling off a lot of pitches. I'm not going to lie, I feel great ending up on that note. I'm just happy I'm helping this team to win."
Cabrera's two-run homer gave him 33 RBIs for May with one game left for the month. It was still clearly on the Mariners' minds when he stepped to the plate with a runner on second base and two outs in the fifth inning of a 2-2 game. Though instant replay overturned a safe call at first base, retiring Torii Hunter after a Seager misplay at third base, Ian Kinsler had still advanced to open up first base.
Cabrera entered the night 1-for-7 for his career off Iwakuma before singling in the first inning and homering in the third. After a brief discussion, the M's decided to take their chances with Martinez instead.
It was just the third intentional walk of the season for Cabrera, who drew at least 17 intentional passes in each of his previous four seasons. After Iwakuma delivered back-to-back called strikes to even the count, he was a pitch away from making it work out.
If this season has shown anything about the Tigers, though, it's that a two-strike count on Martinez is not much of an advantage.
"Honestly, it's not fun to hit with two strikes," he said.
It sounded almost like a reminder that it's not easy to do despite his success there. As a former everyday catcher, however, he also knows it's less fun on the pitcher's side with each successive pitch.
"I think good pitchers, the more pitches they throw, there's more of a chance they're going to make a mistake," Martinez said. "I mean, they're human, like everybody else. They're trying to hit spots. Just being a catcher for a long time, I know that. They try to go away and they throw it in. They try to go in and throw it right down the middle."
He fouled off five of them from Iwakuma in that at-bat to get to the mistake he hit. He said he saw a few good pitches mixed in that he just fouled off. There was one he ripped down the right-field line but couldn't keep fair. There was another that could have fooled him.
The 10th pitch of the at-bat was the mistake, a hanging slider over the plate. Martinez ripped it over the fence in right. The look on Martinez's face as he crossed home plate and then slapped hands in the Tigers' dugout, including with Verlander, showed how much it meant to him.
"He's probably one of the most intense players that I've ever been associated with," McClendon said of Martinez before the game.
Martinez claims the intensity doesn't change with the walk.
"You know what, I always concentrate when I have runners in scoring position, no matter what," he said. "Early in my career, I used to get pretty mad that they were walking people to get to me. And at that time, I was really throwing at-bats away. I was mad at the plate and swinging at everything. But I understand now. I was ready. It doesn't bother me."
With a lead restored, Verlander refocused his own intensity following Kyle Seager's game-tying home run in the fourth to take over his half of the duel from there. After three consecutive struggling outings, Verlander (6-4) prevented Friday from becoming a fourth by retiring 12 of 13 batters from the end of the fourth inning until James Jones' single pushed him out of the game with two outs in the eighth.
His fastball hit 95 mph in the first inning and stayed there consistently, topping out at 98 near the end. In that sense, it was more vintage Verlander, whose 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball marked his longest outing since April 6. His seven strikeouts tied his second-highest total of the season, topped only by his eight-strikeout performance April 12 in San Diego.