CLEVELAND — It is becoming unclear which Martinez leads the Detroit Tigers’ security detail.
Is it Victor Martinez providing the muscle behind two-time reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera? Or is it former Mud Hens slugger J.D. Martinez behind him?
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Victor Martinez has inspired nearly as much fear as Cabrera this season, and that remained true in the Tigers’ 6-4 win over the Indians on Friday night.
The elder Martinez hit his 18th home run of the season, and J.D. Martinez continued to keep pitchers honest with a three-run shot, vaulting the Tigers back to a familiar perch atop the AL Central.
After falling out of first place for the first time in nearly a calendar year, the Tigers’ second straight win nudged them ahead of the Royals by a half game. The third-place Indians trail Detroit by three games.
“When the season began, I thought the only person who could protect Miguel was Miguel,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “But the other person who can protect Miguel is Victor. So there’s at least two out there.”
And, heck, throw in the other Martinez, for good measure. At least going off of the past two weeks. While Victor Martinez is hitting .328 with 47 RBIs in a year trending as the best of his career, the younger Martinez has been a copycat lately.
The 26-year-old former Mud Hens slugger went 3-for-4 with a homer to extend his career-best hitting streak to 10 games, a span over which he is hitting .447. His opposite-field shot to right field against Indians reliever John Axford in the eighth inning was his third homer in as many games and his seventh overall.
“It’s the power that stands out,” Ausmus said. “He’s the one guy other than Miggy who can drive it to anywhere in the park, the one guy who can compete with Miggy for raw power.”
Combined, the Martinez pair provided just enough might for the Tigers to withstand their usual late-innings stress test.
Rick Porcello (9-4) pitched six scoreless innings and Detroit took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth, only for the nightmares from its last visit to Progressive Field to return. Ever since the team’s plane bound for Cleveland broke down on an airport runway in Boston last month, so had the Tigers.
They got swept in Cleveland and arrived back in town Friday with 10 wins in their last 30 games.
Friday night nearly provided the latest painful chapter.
The Indians cut their deficit to a run with two homers off reliever Ian Krol in the bottom of the eighth — a three-run shot by Asdrubal Cabrera and a solo drive by Carlos Santana.
“My stress level got a little up there,” Ausmus said.
This time, though, the worry was for naught. Formerly embattled closer Joe Nathan followed his perfect ninth inning Thursday with another breezy save. After striking out the side a day earlier, he worked around a two-out bloop single and struck out Michael Bourn to secure the win. It was his second straight save since noticeably lowering his arm slot on his motion to the plate.
“The swings I’m seeing now, they’re definitely not as comfortable as they were,” Nathan said. “Before, it was like they were licking their chops.”
It was a disappointing loss for the Indians after their dramatic 10-inning win over the Angels on Thursday.
All around, it was a needed night of redemption for the Tigers. They just hope there is more where that came from.
“Right now, where we’ve been at, every win is important,” Porcello said. “Any kind of roll is crucial. Obviously, we’ve been in the gutter, and this could be a good start.”