Tigers watch Leyland’s pregame tributes, craft one of their own

DETROIT — The Tigers watched Saturday’s pregame tributes to Jim Leyland, and then they went out and spent the next three hours crafting one of their own.

As a manager, Leyland loved power hitters, so Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez launched three-run homers.

Great pitchers? Leyland was proud of managing two Cy Young winners in Detroit, and one of them, Max Scherzer pitched through a lack of command to give the Tigers a chance to win the game.

And, of course, there was no Tiger who summed up Leyland’s career better than Don Kelly. Kelly, the guy who kept making Leyland’s teams on hard work and grit, started the game by stealing a homer from Minnesota’s Kurt Suzuki in the first inning, scored the first run of the day in the second inning and finished with a 2-for-4 performance.

Leyland gets a tribute, gives a tribute

At the end of the game, with Leyland’s former postseason closer Phil Coke getting the final three outs, the Tigers had a 9-3 victory and there were a lot of smiles in the clubhouse.

"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."

Martinez was quick to agree.

"It was great to see Jim today, because he’s still a big part of our family," he 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."

Martinez, who clinched the game with his homer in the seventh inning, was always a Leyland favorite because of his work ethic and his leadership in the clubhouse. Those same qualities have also impressed Brad Ausmus, but more than anything, Ausmus has been amazed by the show that Martinez is putting on.

With his 2-for-4 performance on Saturday, Martinez is now hitting .328 this season with eight homers and 22 RBIs. That’s a great season for anyone, and he’s on pace to shatter his career high of 25 homers, but he’s still getting better. On Detroit’s current homestand, Martinez is batting .333 with four homers and 7 RBIs in six games, and has posted a ludicrous .875 slugging percentage.

We had a lot of great memories with Jim, so we wanted to give him one more.

Miguel Cabrera

"I knew Victor was a great hitter, but he has continued to surprise me all season," Ausmus said. "I keep saying it, but I’ve never seen a hitter like him."

The homers by Cabrera and Martinez made life a lot easier for Scherzer, who was impressive in a different way than his usual dominance. On a day where he clearly didn’t have his best stuff, he got through six innings with only one major mistake — a three-run homer by Brian Dozier.

"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."

Leyland looked proud as he pumped his fists when he was shown on the scoreboard during the seventh-inning stretch. He received yet another standing ovation — his fourth of the day — and looked a lot younger than 69 years old.

Winning baseball will do that to you.