Tigers use small ball to take series from Jays
DETROIT — They were the “Go-Go” Detroit Tigers on Thursday afternoon.
The Tigers — leading the majors with a .313 batting average — can club teams into submission with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez. But they beat the Toronto Blue Jays 11-1 with 14 singles, one double and one triple.
They won by Cabrera stealing third and hitting his first triple since 2010.
They did it with Alex Avila tagging on a fly ball to left to take second base and then making a perfect read to score from second on a single to right by Austin Jackson.
They did it with Jhonny Peralta, batting .333, beating out an infield single.
They did it with Omar Infante, hitting .400, laying down a bunt that rolled just inside the foul line and stopped for a single and then scoring from second on a Torii Hunter opposite-field single.
“The Go-Go Tigers,” said Hunter, repeating my tag and smiling. “Hah!”
It’s a funny way to describe a team that has stolen four bases in nine games and will be lucky to finish with one player reaching 20 steals. That would be Jackson, who is hitting .375 and has scored 13 runs.
But this is a team that runs the bases well because it anticipates and hustles.
Fielder is a threat to reach 50 homers again, but watch him run hard to first base on a routine grounder. He's lost about 20 pounds, ran out an infield hit on Wednesday and also knocked in a run by beating a relay throw to avert a double play.
This ability to manufacture runs — which the Tigers did in the last two games of the Toronto series with 17 runs on 17 hits (only three for extra-bases) — will come in handy when slumps and homer droughts happen.
“Cabrera is really a good baserunner, so is Fielder” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "They are instinctive runners.”
Cabrera equaled his stolen-base totals of each of the last two seasons and got his first triple in three years, and I asked him about his base-running.
He smiled, opened his eyes as wide as possible and sat at his locker stool feigning amazement. Cabrera began to chuckle and didn’t utter a word for 30 seconds.
Then he said, “It’s baseball, and I love baseball. I enjoy running the bases and doing things like that.”
Cabrera saw Blue Jays third baseman Mark DeRosa playing back almost on the grass, got a big lead with pitcher Josh Johnson paying little attention to him on second, and got to third before DeRosa could position himself for a throw from Johnson.
Avila was just as thoughtful on his tag and the scoring play.
“I tagged because it was deep enough and Melky Cabrera was still running back when he caught it,” Avila said. “And so I thought I could make it.
"Coming in from second, I knew where the outfielders were playing, and the ball was hit off the end of the bat, real shallow.”
Avila said the aggressive running tied into the game-time temperature of 35 degrees, with swirling winds and occasional rain.
“We were running around a lot today,” Avila said. “We had to. It was so cold and miserable.”
The bats, however, were hot as a July afternoon.
Fielder knocked in four runs and leads the team with 14 RBI while batting .355.
Cabrera is hitting .378 with 11 RBI and 11 runs.
“Austin’s the table-setter, and I’m serving it up for the big guys who want to eat,” said Hunter, who is batting .405 with a team-high 17 hits. “That’s what I’m here for.”
Peralta, Avila and Infante — the 7-8-9 hitters — are making their presence felt, too.
Leyland said Infante is “quietly” making a big difference. Peralta came alive by hitting .462 in the Toronto series, and Avila’s bat also kicked in.
“The bottom-feeders, the catfish, are definitely getting it done,” Hunter said. “The 7-8-9 hitters, the catfish, are definitely the real deal.”
Jhonny “Catfish” Peralta?
Hey, it could catch on. You never know.
With the “Go-Go” Tigers, anything’s possible.