DETROIT – Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Max Scherzer will all happily give Jim Leyland credit for improving their careers.
Saturday, they got a chance to pay him back.
On the day the Tigers honored their former manager in a pregame ceremony, Cabrera and Martinez both hit three-run homers and Scherzer threw well enough to lead the Tigers over the Minnesota Twins 9-3.
“We had a lot of great memories with Jim, so we wanted to give him one more,” Cabrera said. “We wanted that for him, because of everything he did for us.”
Cabrera connected for his fifth homer, tagging Kyle Gibson (3-3), while Martinez hit his eighth of the season and fourth in the last six games.
“It was great to see Jim today, because he’s still a big part of our family,” Martinez said. “You see him today, running around and hugging people, and you forget how old he is, because he doesn’t have the attitude of an old man. He still seems young, and we all loved seeing him, because he has done so much for all of us.”
Scherzer (5-1) wasn’t sharp yet still won, giving up three runs on five hits and four walks in six innings. He struck out six – his team-record streak of fanning at least seven in seven starts to begin a season ended.
“I couldn’t find my release point today, but I was able to get through it,” he said. “I gave up one big shot, but the rest of the time, I was able to make enough pitches to get the outs I needed and get out of any jams.
“And Leyland must have been proud. He always managed for Miggy and Victor to hit three-run homers for him,” he said.
After the 69-year-old Leyland threw out the first pitch, another of his favorite players made an immediate impact.
Don Kelly, a utilityman who owes his major league career to Leyland’s patience and trust, reached over the left-field fence in the first inning to steal a homer from Kurt Suzuki.
Kelly then scored the game’s first run as the Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the second on RBI singles by Alex Avila and Andrew Romine. Detroit added another run when second baseman Brian Dozier dropped shortstop Danny Santana’s flip, then threw wildly to the plate as Avila scored.
“Danny should have just thrown to first there, but he got himself into trouble by trying to get the out at second,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You can’t make those kind of mistakes against that team.”
The error had major consequences, as Cabrera followed with his homer for a 6-0 lead.
“That was a huge mistake by the Twins, and we all knew it as soon as we saw the error,” Scherzer said. “If you let us extend an inning and get Miggy to the plate, he’s going to make you pay for it. That’s exactly what he did.”
The Twins closed the deficit on Dozier’s long, three-run shot in the third, but weren’t able to do anything else against Scherzer.
Anthony Swarzak relieved Gibson and pitched four shutout innings, but the damage had already been done.
“I just got behind too many guys, and then you have to come in over the plate,” Gibson said. “You can’t do that against a team like Detroit. They are a pretty good team when you have to throw the ball down the middle.”
Martinez broke open the game with a three-run homer off Michael Tonkin in the seventh. Martinez, who is hitting .328 at the age of 35, is on pace to easily surpass his career high of 25.
“I knew Victor was a great hitter before I got here, but he has continued to surprise me all season,” said Leyland’s successor as manager, Brad Ausmus. “I keep saying it – I’ve never seen a hitter like him.”
Tigers reliever Phil Coke got into the game in his latest role as the mop-up man. He allowed a leadoff single, drawing boos from the crowd, but Cabrera helped him out with a 3-6-3 double play that led to a shutout inning.
“We need to get Phil going in games like this so that we can work him in to tougher situations,” Ausmus said. “Miggy helped him out today, and hopefully, this will get the ball rolling.”