Martinez, Cabrera lead Detroit past Seattle 6-3
MAY 31, 2014 1:21a ET
After all, before McClendon took over this season in Seattle, he was Jim Leyland's hitting coach in Detroit, so he got to see Martinez on a daily basis.
Friday night, though, McClendon was faced with a terrible decision in the fifth inning of a tie game -- pitch to two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera or pitch to Martinez. He figured, as most managers would, that Martinez was the lesser of two evils.
As it turned out, that decision was a disaster.
Martinez fouled off five straight two-strike pitches from Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma, then drilled a three-run homer deep into the right-field stands to give the Tigers a 5-2 lead.
"I've never seen a player that has the concentration on every pitch that Victor does, night after night, on every single at-bat," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "The only time that changes is that his focus gets even higher when they walk Miggy to pitch to him."
Even in retrospect, it is easy to see why McClendon decided to walk Cabrera with two out and a runner on second. Cabrera already had two hits off Iwakuma, including a long homer of his own in the third inning, and while Martinez is having a great season, he hasn't won three straight batting titles or a Triple Crown.
"I guess that's picking the lesser of two evils," said Rajai Davis, who added a monster homer of his own later in the game. "Victor is amazing, but Miggy has just been awesome with runners on base. It's a tough call."
Martinez fouled off every pitch Iwakuma has -- three splitters, a slider and a fastball -- before lauching the fastball. After the game, he said that, while he used to get upset when teams walked someone to face him, he didn't blame McClendon a bit.
"If I were the opposing manager, I'd take the same chance," he said. "I'd walk Miggy and pitch to me."
Cabrera's homer had given Detroit a 2-0 lead, but Kyle Seager tied the game in the fourth, crushing one of Justin Verlander's few mistakes of the day.
"I felt great out there for the first three innings, but you can never let your guard down in this game," Verlander said. "I made one mistake -- a fastball that went down instead of up -- and it was a tie game. Luckily, Victor came right back with one of the best at-bats I've ever seen."
While Martinez provided the biggest moment of the night, it was Verlander's performance that was more important in the long run. After a rough stretch that saw his velocity drop and had him experimenting with Rick Porcello's high-school pitching motion, the Tigers ace was back to himself in Seattle. His fastball hit 95 several times in the first inning, and with the exception of Seager's homer, he looked like the dominant pitcher that helped Detroit win three straight division titles.
"I felt great in the bullpen, and it carried over into the game," he said. "Tonight was much better than what I've been doing lately, because I was able to make the pitches I wanted to make."
Ausmus has insisted that he was never worried about Verlander, but seeing him pitching into the eighth inning still brought a smile to the manager's face.
"Justin attacked the hitters and he looked good right from the get-go," he said. "He got us deep into the game and he looked like Justin Verlander again. I've been saying all along that I haven't been concerned about him, and tonight he proved me right."
"Joe was off because he had pitched in four of the last five games," he said. "It had nothing at all to do with Oakland."
Chamberlain wasn't under any illusions, either.
"I can't replace Joe -- he's the leader of this bullpen," he said. "I'm just glad that they had the confidence to go to me when Joe needed a night off. I've got six career saves, and he's got something like 360. This is his job, not mine."
At the end of Chamberlain's inning, the Tigers walked off with a 6-3 victory powered by their best players -- something they badly needed after the last two weeks.