Batting champion Cabrera bails out Tigers

Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer in

Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the top of the first off Yankees starter Freddy Garcia in Game 2 of the ALDS. (Oct. 2, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

With his team in deep trouble against the Yankees, Miguel Cabrera calmly changed the whole landscape of the game and the series with a two-run home run in the first inning against a solid veteran.

He did that in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series as a phenom who helped the Marlins in a game they could not afford to lose. He did it again Sunday as the cornerstone of the Tigers, who could not afford to lose.

"You can't forget about that," he said, thinking back eight years, after adding an RBI single in the sixth inning in the Tigers' 5-3 win at Yankee Stadium. "I was 20 years old. World Series against the Yankees. You can't forget about that. It was a very nice day."

Back then, the Marlins were down 2-1 in games and facing Roger Clemens in what was believed to be his final game (even the Marlins joined in the standing ovation when he left the mound).

Cabrera did not have another postseason home run until Sunday. With the Tigers down 1-0 in the best-of-five and coming off a 9-3 rout Saturday, he drove a 2-and-0 pitch from Freddy Garcia -- "a fastball, slider, something like that," Cabrera said -- into the rightfield stands. That seemed to help everyone on his club, particularly pitcher Max Scherzer in his postseason debut, and made it a whole different Division Series: tied 1-1.

"I get nervous, don't get me wrong," Cabrera said. "I think everybody gets nervous. When you step on the field, they throw that first strike, the nerves go away."

He appeared relaxed as he played first base, chatting with the few Yankees who made it there. He talked hitting with Derek Jeter on second after a rare stolen base in the eighth. Few can speak of hitting with the authority of AL batting champion Cabrera, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs when his team needed him most.

"The guys who do come through, I honestly believe it's just sheer will and determination to win, to come out on top," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "The other ones maybe doubt themselves a little bit, but with Miggy, it seems that every single time he's in that situation, in his mind he knows he's going to come through. That's probably 90 percent of it, besides ability."

Tigers catcher Alex Avila put it this way: "The best players play the best in bright lights. I mean, that's the bottom line. He has done it for years."

Eight years, anyway.

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