DETROIT (AP) – Jim Leyland is usually pretty confident about his managerial moves.
Thursday, though, he wasn’t entirely sure if he had done something smart or stupid.
With the game tied in the eighth, Omar Infante started the inning with a single, and Leyland decided to have Torii Hunter bunt him to second.
That put the go-ahead run in scoring position, but meant taking the bat out of the hands of Miguel Cabrera, baseball’s hottest hitter.
“That was a tough call,” Leyland acknowledged after the game. “That’s definitely a move that the fans are going to discuss, and I don’t have any problem with that. I wasn’t sure, either.”
Sure enough, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire immediately signaled for the intentional walk. The reason Leyland took the chance? Prince Fielder was coming up next, and facing right-hander Jared Burton.
“If they had a tough lefty to pitch to Prince — maybe Glen Perkins if it had been the ninth inning — I might not have bunted,” Leyland said. “Prince has 40 RBIs hitting behind Miguel Cabrera, so I was willing to roll the dice with him.”
The plan worked, but only barely. Fielder hit what looked like a possible double-play grounder, but it deflected off Burton’s glove and past second baseman Brian Dozier. Infante scored easily, and the Tigers held on to win 7-6.
“You hate walking anyone to pitch to Prince Fielder, I can tell you that right now,” Gardenhire said. “But you’ve got to take your choice, and the way Cabrera is swinging the bat, you’ve got to do it. We got the groundball. It just didn’t work out.”
Before the intentional walk, Cabrera had driven in three runs, including his sixth homer in four games. He’s matched a career high by homering in four straight games. He has also walked five times in the four games, and Fielder has followed all five with hits, driving in seven more runs. In the four games, the pair have combined to drive in 20 runs.
“It’s absolutely incredible what they are doing,” Tigers starter Rick Porcello said. “If I were pitching against them, I’d just walk both of them every time they came up.”
Joaquin Benoit (1-0) picked up the win with a perfect inning of relief, while Jose Valverde pitched the ninth for his fifth save.
The Tigers trailed 6-3 going into the bottom of the seventh, but scored three times off three Minnesota pitchers. Infante singled and Cabrera walked with one out, bringing Brian Duensing into the game. He allowed RBI singles to Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez before giving way to Burton.
Jhonny Peralta greeted Burton (0-2) with a game-tying double, and Matt Tuiasosopo was hit by a pitch to load the bases before Brayan Pena and Andy Dirks popped out to end the inning.
“We gave the game over to our bullpen, and they usually do the job,” Gardenhire said. “Just didn’t happen today.”
The Tigers had taken a 2-0 lead in the first when Cabrera lifted a 2-2 pitch into the bullpens beyond the left-field fence. It was the first of his six homers in four games that he had pulled — the others had all been to center field or right-center.
Porcello almost got a second straight inning-ending double play in the second, but Jhonny Peralta juggled Dozier’s grounder and Dozier beat the relay throw to allow Justin Morneau to score.
Minnesota started the third with three straight singles, tying the game, and Josh Willingham made it 5-2 by pulling Porcello’s pitch deep into the left-field stands.
Scott Diamond retired 10 straight batters after Tuiasosopo’s second-inning single, but Detroit loaded the bases with two out in the fifth on two singles and a walk. Cabrera bounced an infield single up the middle, making it 5-3, but Diamond got Fielder to pop out and end the inning.
Detroit threatened again in the sixth, putting runners on second and third with two out, but Fien came on to strike out pinch-hitter Andy Dirks. Willingham then moved the lead to three runs with a solo homer off Darin Downs in the seventh.
“That’s a tough loss,” Willingham said. “I felt good at the plate, and I was able to get the pitchers to elevate the ball. That’s the key to doing what I do.”
NOTES: The start of the game was delayed for an hour by rain. … Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon left the game after the top of the third with an sprained right index finger. Florimon appeared to sustain the injury while sliding head-first into third base. Gardenhire said after the game that Florimon is day-to-day. … The fans broke into a chant of “Let’s Go Red Wings” in the top of the fifth inning as news spread that Detroit had taken a 1-0 lead over the Blackhawks in the second period of the playoff game. The hockey game was played at Joe Louis Arena, about five minutes from Comerica Park. … Cabrera also homered in four straight games with the Marlins in April 2004.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.