Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) hits the game winning RBI-single against the Texas Rangers in the ninth inning Tuesday.
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DETROIT — Now that Miguel Cabrera’s back in Michigan with his teammates, he’s performing just as they want him to on the field.
His spring training problems aren’t forgotten, but his game-winning hit Tuesday was a reminder of why he’s so important to the Detroit Tigers.
Cabrera’s bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Tigers a 5-4 win over the Texas Rangers. Less than two months after being arrested in Florida on suspicion of drunken driving, he’s off to a fine start hitting in the middle of Detroit’s order.
“He does it every year. He comes to play. He’s been working hard. He’s in the weight room every day,” teammate Brad Penny said. “He’s a professional. When he comes in this clubhouse, he’s a baseball player, and he handles himself how he should.”
Cabrera, whose legal issues are still pending, is hitting .385 so far this season and leads the team with four home runs and 10 RBIs.
Brandon Inge led off with a single in the ninth off Darren O’Day (0-1) and moved to second on Alex Avila’s sacrifice bunt. After two walks sandwiched around a strikeout, Cabrera ended the game with a single through the left side of the infield.
“You’ve got to focus for that and prepare and try and make a good swing, try to work the count,” Cabrera said. “If you walk or something like that — make something good happen.”
Detroit led 4-3 before Texas tied it in the eighth with a run off reliever Joaquin Benoit. Jose Valverde (1-0) worked a scoreless top of the ninth for the Tigers.
Ryan Raburn had two hits for the Tigers and made a jumping catch against the left field wall. Detroit snapped a three-game losing streak and handed Texas its second loss of the season.
The Rangers were trying to start 10-1 for just the second time in franchise history. There was more bad news: Texas slugger Josh Hamilton left the game after his first at-bat with a strained right shoulder.
Hamilton had an MRI.
“I’m a little worried,” said Hamilton, who was wearing a big black sling after the game. “The X-rays are fine — there’s no bone problem — but I haven’t heard back about the MRI yet. I usually bounce back pretty quickly from injuries, but the waiting for news isn’t any fun.”
Detroit starter Brad Penny rebounded from two unimpressive starts, allowing three runs on seven hits in 6 2-3 innings. Texas starter C.J. Wilson went 6 2-3 innings as well, allowing four runs on seven hits. He struck out four and walked three.
Hamilton left after the first inning. He slid headfirst into third when he hit a run-scoring triple, then tried to tag up on a foul popup near the Detroit dugout. Inge, the third baseman, and catcher Victor Martinez both ran after the ball, leaving the plate unprotected when Inge made the catch. But Martinez was able to take a throw from Inge while scampering back in time to tag out a diving Hamilton.
The Tigers scored in the bottom of the first — the first run allowed by the Rangers in three games — when Austin Jackson hit a leadoff triple and scored on Ramon Santiago’s groundout. Michael Young gave Texas a 2-1 lead when he hit a sacrifice fly in the third that Raburn caught at the top of the fence, preventing further damage.
“I was just trying to get a good read on it,” Raburn said. “I think the wind held it up more than anything. Luckily it found my glove.”
The Tigers tied it in the bottom of the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Martinez, and Texas went back ahead on an RBI groundout by Adrian Beltre in the sixth. Raburn doubled home a run in the sixth and scored on Brennan Boesch’s single to make it 4-3.
In the seventh, Detroit reliever Brayan Villarreal pitched a third of an inning — without actually throwing a pitch. Villarreal came on with a man on first and two out. Before making a single delivery to the plate, he picked off Julio Borbon at first to end the threat. He was replaced by Benoit to start the eighth.
“I actually think that’s what they wanted to happen. I think (manager Jim Leyland) pulled me out of the game so he could pick him off,” Penny said. “That guy’s got an unbelievable pickoff move.”
Notes: Boesch was the only left-handed hitter in Detroit’s starting lineup. Lefties hit .144 against Wilson last season. ... The Rangers have agreed to a contract extension with assistant general manager Thad Levine that runs through the 2015 season. ... Detroit OF Magglio Ordonez remains out — he’s been having problems with his surgically repaired right ankle. ... Texas manager Ron Washington said after the game RHP Dave Bush will start Wednesday.
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