DETROIT - Even grizzled seen-it-all manager Jim Leyland is amazed.
"He's unbelievable," the Detroit skipper said Saturday night after his injured but-still-star third baseman, Miguel Cabrera, bashed a leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Tigers a 6-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals. "I'm totally amazed at what I'm seeing."
"Heck yes," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said of the 96 miles-per-hour fastball from Aaron Crow (7-4) that Cabrera smashed for his 39th home run of the season, "he hit a good pitch. There's not three batters in baseball that could hit that pitch - and he's one of them."
"I'm sitting here on my (office) couch with two cups of coffee and a cigarette," said Leyland, who along with catcher Brayan Pena had been ejected in the fourth for arguing about just the kind of play instant replay will correct next season. "I know this: there's a time difference between what I'm seeing on this monitor and the one out there (near the dugout).
"I hear this roar and somebody says, ‘That's it.' Then I see it. Unbelievable.
"This is a heckuva series. They're trying to catch us and we're trying to hold them off. They showed a lot of character coming back and we did too."
Cabrera ran the count to 3-1 and then lofted a high fly to right that easily made the seats near the foul pole to end a back-and-forth game. Joaquin Benoit (3-0) walked the leadoff man in the top of the ninth but retired the next three batters.
Chris Getz's RBI single in the top of the eighth created a 5-5 tie after Prince Fielder had broken a 4-4 tie in the seventh with his 19th home run. Salvador Perez hit his fifth home run in the seventh to create 4-4 deadlock.
"We couldn't get the lead," Yost said. "We kept battling back and we had opportunities but we just couldn't grab them."
Yost passed up walking Cabrera with a runner on third and two out in the fourth and the ending of that old movie has been seen before. Cabrera rifled a double into the right field corner for his 116th RBI and a 4-3 Tigers' lead.
Getz had singled leading off the top of the fourth. He went all the way to third on a pitch that bounced in the dirt and hit Alcides Escobar's bat, a fact missed by the umpires. Leyland was tossed one pitch later (he'd seen the replay) and Pena was bounced after Escobar grounded an RBI double down the third base line. The Royals got their first two runs in the third on RBI singles by Alex Gordon and Perez.
"That's a good, athletic team," Leyland said of the Royals. "They're not going away. Those guys are the real deal."
Fielder's RBI double in the first was followed by an RBI single by Victor Martinez. Jose Iglesias laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt in the second and beat it out for an RBI single.
"You know I don't like the suicide squeeze," Leyland said. "But that was a good opportunity for him (Iglesias). I don't think that's just a play you put on in the eighth and ninth innings. You can use it early for an add-on run.
"I just took a shot. He did a good job, too, because that was a tough pitch to bunt - a breaking ball. To tell you the truth, I had it on the pitch before but Brookie (third base coach Tom Brookens) took it off because he didn't like the way they were reacting. So I put it on again."
NOTES: RF Torii Hunter drew a seat on the bench for the start of Saturday's game. "If you're going to give a guy a day off," Leyland noted of Hunter's 0-for-7 record against KC starter RHP Wade Davis, "it only makes sense to do it then." ... 2B Miguel Tejada, already on the Royals' 60-day disabled list with a calf injury, will have to sit out the first 105 games of next season too. MLB suspended Tejada 25 days and 80 on top of that for two failed tests for banned substances. ... Leyland says he's "thrilled to death" with his new shortstop, Jose Iglesias, acquired in late July from Boston. "He's going to be the shortstop for the Detroit Tigers for a long time." ... 3B Mike Moustakas returned to Kansas City's starting lineup after missing four days with a calf injury but was replaced in the seventh after tiring. ... 2B Omar Infante left the game after six innings with lower back stiffness and may not play Sunday.