NEW YORK — Jim Leyland has nearly half a century in baseball. Torii Hunter is a five-time All-Star. Anibal Sanchez is a rising talent. Whatever the perspective, the opinion is the same: Miguel Cabrera is on a whole different level.
Cabrera homered against the Yankees again and had three hits while playing on a bandaged leg and Torii Hunter connected and drove in four runs, leading the Detroit Tigers to a 9-3 victory over New York on Saturday.
“It’s hard to believe what we are seeing,” Leyland said. “I’m seeing things that are mind-boggling.”
Sanchez (10-7) tossed seven easy innings against a Yankees lineup that was without Alex Rodriguez. Manager Joe Girardi said he was giving the third baseman a day off after he struck out three times in his season debut in the Bronx.
Austin Jackson followed a four-hit, three-double night Friday with a homer and triple against the organization that drafted him. Don Kelly had a two-run single after Phil Hughes (4-11) was lifted in a four-run fifth to help the AL Central leaders win for the 17th time in 21 games since the All-Star break.
Hunter and Kelly each had three of Detroit’s 17 hits and Victor Martinez had an RBI double.
Lounging on a clubhouse couch Saturday morning, Cabrera was wearing a big, square Band-Aid over the spot on his left shin where he fouled one of two balls Friday night before homering off Mariano Rivera to send the game into extra innings. Detroit lost that one to end a 12-game win streak, but the Tigers rolled along Saturday behind the hobbled Triple Crown winner.
“Sore,” Cabrera said after driving in his 109th run. “It’s a long season. You go through a lot of stuff with injuries. You got to try to hang in and battle.”
Cabrera singled in the first and connected in the third on an inside pitch for his 35th of the year. He singled against Hughes in the fifth, slowly working his way around the bases and scoring on Kelly’s two-run single in a four-run inning.
“It’s not about talk,” Cabrera said. “It’s about going out there and play.”
A-Rod, who bolted the ballpark before talking to the media Friday night, was not surprised that Cabrera was able to homer while in so much pain.
“The guy is amazing. I mean that was a joke,” Rodriguez said Saturday. “Everyone thought he was dead — it was like the movies, you’ve got to shoot him to make sure he’s dead. I knew he wasn’t coming out of the game and said, `Don’t fall for that bait of limping around.’ He’s a dangerous guy.”
Hunter homered off Joba Chamberlain in the sixth to make it 9-2. Fans booed the little-used reliever about as much as they jeered Hughes, who failed to get past the fifth inning for the ninth time in 22 starts this season.
Jackson tripled over the head of center fielder Brett Gardner to start the game, and he scored on Hunter’s sacrifice fly. Cabrera homered in the third on a pitch that appeared as if it might hit his knee, and Jackson sent a one-out line drive over the left-field fence in the fifth.
“He knows how to make adjustments. Once you think you got him, `Nah.’ He got you figured out already,” Hunter said. “Miguel’s definitely the best hitter on the planet.”
The slumped-shouldered Hughes was lifted following Hunter’s single. He allowed seven hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings, striking out six without a walk.
“I have to keep grinding,” Hughes said. “There are a few pitches I’d like back — the hanging slider to Jackson. But the fastball to Cabrera, that was a foot inside and well off the plate? You just tip your cap to him.”
When asked if dropping Hughes — who is 2-9 with a 5.29 ERA in his last 11 decisions — from the rotation was a possibility, Girardi said: “I don’t know if we have other options. We need him to pitch well.”
Cabrera then singled and Martinez had an RBI double off Preston Claiborne with Cabrera slowly chugging into third. He scored on Kelly’s two-run single for a 6-0 lead.
“I’m glad this guy’s a part of this team,” Sanchez said. “He’s amazing.”
Chamberlain relieved with two on in the sixth, and gave up Hunter’s 13th of the year on his third pitch.
Lyle Overbay had pulled New York to 6-2 in the bottom of the fifth with a two-run drive to right. Overbay added an RBI single in the ninth.
Sanchez did not allow a baserunner until Gardner led off the fourth by fisting a blooper to right that went only a few yards farther than a shard of his broken bat that landed in between first and second base.
“Sanchez controlled the tempo of the game,” Lelyand said.
In the first start of his career at Yankee Stadium, Sanchez gave up two runs and four hits. He struck out seven and walked one.
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