Miguel Cabrera left the batter’s box with a bit of a hop in his step while his drive to right field sailed over the wall.
"A long time, I had not hit a home run," the slugger said.
Cabrera’s solo shot in the sixth inning was his 44th of the year, but his first since Aug. 26. It was perhaps the most encouraging highlight for Detroit in a 6-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night that kept the Tigers six games ahead of second-place Cleveland in the AL Central.
Detroit’s magic number to eliminate the Indians is six.
Ahead 3-2, the Tigers escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth while playing without closer Joaquin Benoit and left-handed reliever Drew Smyly. They were both given the night off.
"We need everybody here on our ballclub," Cabrera said. "I think everybody here stepped up tonight and did their jobs. It’s what we need to still win our games, what we need if we go to the playoffs."
Anibal Sanchez struck out 10 in 6 1-3 innings, but the Mariners tied it at 2 against him in the seventh, forcing Detroit’s relievers into action.
Al Alburquerque (3-3) got out of the seventh, and Phil Coke and Jose Alvarez made it through a dodgy eighth. Alvarez got two outs in the ninth, and Jose Veras finished.
Yoervis Medina (4-6) took the loss. The Mariners have dropped eight of nine.
Cabrera has been bothered by a number of injuries that have affected his legs and midsection, so his opposite-field solo shot was a welcome sight for the Comerica Park crowd. It gave Detroit a 2-1 lead, but pinch-hitter Kendrys Morales tied it with an RBI double in the seventh.
Alex Avila led off the bottom of the seventh with his first triple of the year, and after Jose Iglesias was hit by a pitch, Avila was caught in a rundown between third and home on Jackson’s grounder.
Avila stayed in the rundown long enough to enable Iglesias to go all the way from first to third, and Torii Hunter’s sacrifice fly put the Tigers ahead 3-2.
They weren’t safe yet, though. With Benoit and Smyly unavailable, Coke walked two hitters, sandwiched around an error by Iglesias at shortstop. Alvarez came on with the bases loaded and got Mike Zunino to hit into a double play that kept the Tigers ahead.
"Obviously, I was trying for a groundball," Alvarez said. "That was a good AB for the hitter — a couple good pitches foul. … If we don’t make the play in that situation, it costs us the game maybe, but we make it and we take the win."
Zunino drew two walks but couldn’t come through in what was probably the biggest at-bat of the game.
"I was just trying to battle and get the ball to the outfield," he said. "I’m sure I saw every pitch he had, and I was keeping myself alive, but I just didn’t do what I needed to do. A groundball was the worst thing in the world right there, and they turned two on me."
Omar Infante added an RBI single in the bottom of the inning, and Austin Jackson’s two-run single made it 6-2.
Sanchez allowed six hits and two walks in 6 1-3 innings. His American League-leading ERA is now at 2.51. He threw 125 pitches.
"I’m not tired, more frustrated that I got the lead twice today and I don’t keep the score," Sanchez said. "But at the end we win. That’s the most important thing."
Don Kelly’s fourth-inning homer put Detroit ahead 1-0, but Raul Ibanez tied it in the sixth with his 28th homer of the year.
Seattle starter Brandon Maurer pitched five-plus innings, allowing two runs and five hits. He walked two and struck out six.
"I thought Maurer was much better today than he’s been," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "He’s struggled lately, and he was pitching at this time of year against that team, but he didn’t let any of that get to him. He kept his emotions in check and did a very nice job."
NOTES: Detroit manager Jim Leyland said DH Victor Martinez will catch Thursday’s game. … Detroit RHP Justin Verlander (13-11) faces Seattle RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (12-6) on Wednesday night.