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Tigers 3, Yankees 0: A much needed victory

Miguel Cabrera didn’t hit #3000, but no doubt he’s happier to see a win.

MLB: New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Miguel Cabrera didn’t record his 3000th hit in this one, but the Tigers came alive to earn a much needed victory by a score of 3-0 over the Yankees on Thursday.

After losing the first two games of the series, the Tigers held a 4-7 record and a lengthy injured list. They badly needed to get a win here, and yet for most of the crowd in attendance, this one understandably revolved around Cabrera’s pursuit of history. It wasn’t quite a packed house, but it was a loud one, and there were healthy crowds in bars and restaurants downtown on a weekday, hoping to celebrate the big occasion.

They settled for a victory after a good first start from Michael Pineda to begin his Tigers career. As Miguel Cabrera said on Wednesday night after reaching 2999, it’s all about winning games. Personal accomplishments are secondary.

While he wanted things focused on the need to win games, the attention today was always going to be fully on Miguel Cabrera. After showing little interest in talking about the pursuit of 3000 hits after last night’s loss, and turning the attention to the team’s performance, Cabrera seemed to accept the moment on Thursday morning, as he sat for an uncharacteristically long session with reporters. The quotes were flying fast and furious on social media as Cabrera moved between banter and sincere reflection on what these moments mean to him at this point in his career.

The Tigers had a lot of trouble with southpaw Jordan Montgomery in this one. That will surprise no one who has watch the offense struggle over the first two weeks of the season. Robbie Grossman led off the bottom of the first with a walk, but the Tigers didn’t get another baserunner until the top of the third, when Willi Castro led off with a single. Victor Reyes took Castro’s place at first after grounding into a fielder’s choices that got Castro at second. Robbie Grossman then smoked a double to left, and Reyes burned it around the basepaths to score from first.

That would be the only run scored in this one for quite some time. Eric Haase walked in the fourth, and Robbie Grossman singled in the fifth, but they never threatened to score. It wasn’t until the eighth that they finally were able to expand their lead and put this one away.

Meanwhile, Michael Pineda’s debut in a Tigers uniform went very well. The big right-hander was in classic form. He mixed in his slider and changeup while aggressively pounding the strike zone, yet without grooving more than a couple pitches over the middle of the plate. 40 of his 60 pitches went for strikes.

Through four innings, Pineda pretty much cruised, allowing just a single to Anthony Rizzo in the first inning. In the fifth, DJ LeMahieu led off with a single, and Pineda finally found himself in a spot of trouble when Isaiah Kiner-Falefa singled with one out, moving LeMahieu to third. Pineda quickly got Marwin Gonzalez to fly out to right-center field, and for some reason LeMahieu decided not to test Robbie Grossman’s arm, despite the fact that the right-fielder throws left-handed and was moving toward center field as he made the catch. The next hitter, Jose Trevino, smoked a drive 400 feet to straightaway center field, but Victor Reyes raced back and made a nice catch just shy of the warning track.

In the bottom of the fifth, Robbie Grossman collected a two-out single, but was stranded as Jonathan Schoop, as many Tigers hitters did in this one, flailed over Montgomery’s sinker and soft stuff. Jacob Barnes took over from Pineda, who hadn’t gone more than three innings in his two Triple-A tune-up starts, in the top of the sixth. He allowed a single to Aaron Judge with one out, but had no issue stranding him. After the Tigers went quickly in the sixth, including another strikeout from Cabrera, this time on a checked swing strike three call that was obviously the right call. Wily Peralta entered the game in the top of the sixth and easily dispatched the Yankees with heavy doses of his splitter.

In the bottom of the seventh, Yankees’ skipper Aaron Boone brought in right-hander Miguel Castro to take over from Montgomery. Eric Haase grounded out to open the frame, but Spencer Torkelson lashed a single to left, giving the Tigers a bit of an opportunity to widen their lead. Unfortunately, Willi Castro grounded into a fielder’s choice that got Torkelson at second base, and was then thrown out trying to steal second, ending the inning.

Alex Lange came on to hold the one-run lead in the eighth, and it didn’t go well. Josh Donaldson led off with a double to left field and was replaced by pinch runner Tim Locastro. Pinch-hitter Gleyber Torres slapped a seeing eye grounder into the hole on the left side that Willi Castro could only corral with a dive, and both runners were safe on the play. Lange got Aaron Hicks to pop out, which helped his cause, but was still facing a first and third, one out situation, with Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton lined up to face him.

Lange wanted no part of Judge, getting down 3-1 without throwing a pitch in the zone, and essentially issuing a free pass with ball four. In a crucial situation, and the lefty Rizzo coming up, AJ Hinch wasn’t going to fool around. He turned to closer Gregory Soto to try and escape the bases loaded, one out jam. Soto got a comebacker from Rizzo and flipped it home for the force out, and then got Stanton on a grounder to first base to escape the jam. That was huge for the Tigers, and a gutsy showing from Soto taking over in that scenario.

The momentum carried over a bit, as Victor Reyes led off the bottom of the eighth by fighting through an eight pitch at-bat and eventually doubled down the left field line. Robbie Grossman bounced a comebacker off of Castro and was safe at first, while Reyes adroitly read the play and took third. And so, with no outs, and men on first and third, Jonathan Schoop, Jeimer Candelario, and Miguel Cabrera were lined up with a chance to widen the 1-0 lead.

Castro couldn’t quite find the strike zone against Schoop, and issued a four pitch walk to load the bases. Boone turned to lefty Lucas Luetge to turn Candelario around, and it worked to perfection as Candelario bounced back to Luetge, who threw home for the force, and catcher Kyle Higashioka gunned Candelario out at first as well. Boone then issued an intentional walk to Cabrera to reload the bases and keep the force in play, eliciting pure rage from the Tigers’ faithful clamoring for hit number 3000.

Still, with lefty Austin Meadows on deck, the move made sense. However the baseball gods called it weak sauce. On the first pitch, a fastball down and away, Meadows dumped a bleeder into shallow left-center field for a two-run single, because karma demanded it.

The crowd loved it and unleashed a torrent of scorn on Boone as chants of “Yankees suck,” rained down from the stands. Eric Haase grounded out to end the inning, but the damage was done and the chorus from the crowd reached a fever pitch as the teams switched sides between innings. Miguel Cabrera was seen grinning and trying to settle the crowd down as he came off the field, reminding them that it’s all about winning the game.

So, closer Gregory Soto had the ball and a three-run lead to work with. The Tigers needed a win here, while Soto looked for his third save on the young season. Soto struck out LeMahieu for the first out, but Rizzo slapped a single through the infield. No matter, as Soto got Kiner-Falefa to ground into a game-ending double play, and the Tigers avoid the sweep, moving their record to 5-7.

The Tigers welcome in the Colorado Rockies on Friday night, looking for a series win. The chase for the 3000th hit will continue, and the way Cabrera is going right now, it probably won’t be long.