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Tigers 5, Royals 1: The battle cats were back on Saturday night

The pitching was strong, and Miguel Cabrera racked up four RBI to power the offense to victory.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

The Battle Cats were back on Saturday night, with Miguel Cabrera in the starring role. After a close fought game through five innings, the Tigers took the lead and poured it on while the bullpen tied up the Royals, evening the series with a 5-1 victory.

Tarik Skubal got off to a good start in this one. He got Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez to ground out, and then punched out Salvador Perez for his 200th major league strikeout. In the process, Skubal became the fastest Tigers’ pitcher in history to reach that mark. He needed just 10 pitches to breeze through the second inning with just three balls weakly put in play by the middle of the Royals’ order.

The Tigers went quickly in the first two frames against rookie Jon Heasley, with a Miguel Cabrera single to lead off the second their only hit, though for the second straight night, Akil Baddoo led off with a hard drive to right field that was caught. Cabrera was erased when Harold Castro grounded into a double play to end the inning.

In the third, and what was planned as Skubal’s final inning, there was finally some hard contact. Hunter Dozier hit a high fly ball over the wall in left field, but Baddoo timed his leap perfectly and hauled it back with full extension. Hanser Alberto hammered the first pitch he saw right to Jonathan Schoop at first. Edward Olivares followed with a soft single to left for the Royals first base hit, but Skubal got Whit Merrifield on a soft fly ball to shallow center field to end the inning.

Skubal had only thrown 36 pitches, rather than the 45 or so he’s generally been allotted, so there was a chance he’d get to pitch the fourth as well.

The Tigers made a pair of quick outs in the bottom of the third, but Victor Reyes stayed hot, spraying a grounder the opposite way through the hole for a two-out single. Unfortunately, Baddoo bounced out to end the inning.

The brisk pace through his first three innings did convince A.J. Hinch to bring Skubal back out for the fourth. Ultimately it only took him eight pitches to cut through the Royals 1-2-3 with a pair of routine ground balls and a fly out to shallow center field. He mixed in a nasty curveball to get strike one on Salvador Perez before the Royals catcher flew out, and generally looked excellent...except for that Dozier fly ball that would have been the obligatory home run allowed from the Tigers’ rookie left-hander had Baddoo not pulled it back.

Meanwhile, the Tigers’ offense continued to struggle. Schoop led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk, but Robbie Grossman popped out to third, and Cabrera grounded into a double play to end the inning.

The Royals opened the scoring in the top of the fifth, manufacturing a run the old fashioned way against Drew Hutchison. Carlos Santana drew a lead off walk and advanced to second on a passed ball on Dustin Garneau. Adalberto Mondesi moved Santana to third with a sacrifice bunt, and a fly ball from Dozier allowed Santana to score.

The Tigers got an automatic double with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Harold Castro sliced a fly ball down the left field line and Benintendi couldn’t haul it in. Instead it bounced on the line into the crowd. It was to no avail once again, as Paredes popped out, and Garneau drilled a line drive right to Benintendi in left to end the inning.

Victor Reyes appeared to be running a little gingerly on his last attempt, and he was pulled for the sixth inning. Baddoo took over in center field, while Daz Cameron took over right field and Grossman moved over to left.

Olivares led off the inning with a single, but was gunned down trying to steal on a great throw from Garneau. Merrifield popped out, but Nicky Lopez pulled a ground ball through the right side of the infield. He advanced to second on a passed ball, but Hutchison got Salvador Perez to pop out to end the inning.

Daz Cameron battled Heasley to a full count but struck out over a good curveball to open the bottom of the sixth. However, Baddoo worked a walk, and Mike Matheny went to his bullpen to bring in Domingo Tapia. Schoop blooped one just over the outstretched glove of Nicky Lopez in shallow left field. Baddoo read it well off the bat and didn’t stop running, roaring around and sliding in safe at third as Mondesi appeared to just miss him with a swipe tag. The Royals decided to challenge as it was certainly close, and difficult to tell if Mondesi touched Baddoo’s jersey or not in the slow motion replays. On review, they did decide to call Baddoo out, drawing howls of protest from the Comerica Park faithful. The official replay used to change the call was no more definitive than the broadcast angles.

This was unfortunate, as just like Niko Goodrum’s out running to third in last night’s game, a hit followed that probably would’ve scored the run. However, the Tigers responded the way you should, channeling the rage into quality ABs. Grossman flared a single to left, and Schoop moved to second base. At that point, Miguel Cabrera had seen enough of this nonsense, and drilled a line drive down the right field line. Dozier dove for it but couldn’t make the catch. Schoop scored, and Robbie Grossman burned it all the way around from first to join him, making it 2-1 Tigers. Jeimer Candelario then drilled a deep drive to left-center field off the wall at the visitor’s bullpen, and Cabrera rumbled around to score from second, as Candy cruised in with his major league leading 42nd double of the season.

At that point, with Tapia throwing BP, Matheny turned to lefty Jake Brentz, and Hinch countered with Goodrum in place of Harold Castro, but Goodrum grounded out to end the inning.

The Tigers social media folks were enjoying the festivities.

Benintendi got the Royals started in the seventh, lining a Hutchison fastball up the opposite way for a leadoff single. However he was erased by Garneau to Goodrum trying to steal second, and Santana got ahead 2-0 and lined out to Baddoo. Hutchison walked Mondesi, and Hinch turned to Kyle Funkhouser to keep the lead intact. Dozier greeted him with a double to left field, moving Mondesi to third with Hanser Alberto at the dish. Alberto made a bid for extra bases, driving one just over Baddoo’s head in center but the Tigers’ outfielder reached up and hauled it in to turn the Royals away.

Greg Holland came on for the bottom of the seventh. He did what he’s generally done to the Tigers in his career, racking up three pretty easy outs. Holland got Cameron swinging over a slider down and away for strike three to end the inning.

Funkhouser got Olivares for the first out of the eighth, but then walked Merrifield. Lopez took a pitch in off the plate and grounded it past Schoop and down the right field line for a double, moving Merrifield to third in the process. Funkhouser got into a lengthy duel with Perez, but froze him with a front door slider for a called strike three. With the game fully on the line, and Benintendi coming up to the plate, Hinch decided to go get the big dog for what was clearly the crux of the game, bringing on Michael Fulmer for a four-out save.

Fulmer started Benintendi with a pair of nasty low-90’s sliders on the outer edge for strikes. Benintendi fouled off the next one, and then laid off a high fastball. Fulmer had a nasty wrinkle left for him though, dropping a gorgeous curveball right at the bottom of the zone. Benintendi swung over the top, and the Tigers were in the driver’s seat with only three outs left to collect. For the second time in the game, Hinch had gone to his pen for a fresh arm with two outs and his team in trouble, and both times it worked.

A little insurance would be nice, of course, and Baddoo started the bottom of the eighth off with a single against Ervin Santana. Before he could consider running on Perez, Schoop laced a double to right field. Dozier got the ball in quick enough for Ramon Santiago to hold Baddoo at third with Grossman at the plate and no outs. Grossman ripped a 2-1 fastball just foul down the right field line, which seemed to get in Santana’s head a bit. He stayed away from there, and Grossman drew yet another walk to set up Cabrera for a crucial at-bat with the crowd going nuts.

Santana nearly hit the big fella with a fastball up and in on a 2-1 pitch, and then Cabrera swung through a grooved fastball to make it 3-2. Cabrera fouled one off to right, then got a bit of a hanging slider over the middle and fouled that off as well. Santana tried to jam him with a fastball, and Cabrera fouled that off as well. Finally, Santana gave in with a fastball over the middle, and Miggy spanked it right back through the box for a two-run single to make it 5-1, drawing the roaring approval of the Saturday night faithful as Hinch sent Willi Castro in to run for him. That was hit number 2983 if you’re counting at home.

Matheny turned to Dylan Coleman for his second ever major league appearance at that point. Coleman jammed Candelario and broke his bat, but Alberto had to charge it and couldn’t make the transfer cleanly. There were still no outs, and the bases were loaded again, but Coleman just overpowered Goodrum, Paredes, and Garneau with two swinging strikeouts and a pop-up to first from Paredes.

So, with a four-run lead, Fulmer came out for the ninth, and he took care of business. Santana flew out, and Mondesi struck out, but Dozier tripled deep up the left-center field gap. It mattered not, as Fulmer got Kyle Isbel to ground out to Paredes at second, and this one was in the books as a Tigers’ win.

The stars of this one were Akil Baddoo, Jonathan Schoop, and Robbie Grossman, who got on base all game long—with Schoop and particularly Baddoo playing some fine defense—and especially Miguel Cabrera, who cashed them in four times. Skubal pitched well, and A.J. Hinch deployed the bullpen beautifully. Pretty textbook win on a night when the Tigers really didn’t swing the bats all that well.

Only 2800 from Cooperstown!

Yeah he’ll have to average 200 a year for 14 more seasons to get there, but we’ll see how it goes.