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CLEVELAND — Jim Leyland has given up.
When reporters mine the Tigers manager for new ways to describe Miguel Cabrera, he can no longer help. Leyland threw up his hands Tuesday, saying only that his third baseman is “probably leaving little doubts to anybody who the best hitter is right now.”
“I don’t know what else to say,” Leyland said. “I really don’t.”
Cabrera continued to leave the baseball world searching Tuesday as he and Max Scherzer combined to brush aside the streaking Indians 5-1 at Progressive Field.
The reigning MVP belted an outside fastball below his knees more than 400 feet over the center-field wall to break up an unlikely pitcher’s dual. Cabrera’s two-run home run pushed the Tigers ahead 3-1 in the sixth inning and was more than enough for Scherzer, who followed a rugged first inning with one of the most dominant performances of his career.
Scherzer (6-0) retired the last 22 hitters he faced, allowing one run on two hits over eight innings. He struck out seven and remained one of three pitchers, along with Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore (8-0) and and Boston’s Clay Buchholz (6-0), with at least six wins and no losses.
“Just a terrific outing,” Leyland said. “We needed that.”
The Tigers pulled within 1½ games of the AL Central-leading Indians, who fell for just the fifth time in their last 23 games. Detroit won for the fifth time in 13 games.
Indians starter Corey Kluber (3-3), rocked for eight runs in his first appearance against Detroit this season, matched Scherzer early. The 27-year-old right-hander retired 12 of the Tigers’ first 13 hitters and carried a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning.
“He was pitching well,” Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. “He had the cutter working, the 2-seamer working, and was throwing 95. We had to figure something out.”
They did. Andy Dirks led off the sixth inning with a solo homer to right-center before a double by Hunter brought up Cabrera, who on Sunday ripped three homers against Texas.
Here’s all that needs to be said about Cabrera: A year after becoming the first player in 45 years in either league to win the Triple Crown, he is enjoying an even better season this spring. Cabrera leads the AL in hitting (.387) and RBI (49) by wide margins and is second with 12 homers.
So feared is Cabrera that Indians manager Terry Francona was asked if he considered intentionally walking Cabrera with one on and nobody out in a tied game in the sixth.
“You walk him for first and second and nobody out, you’re asking for trouble,” Francona said. “You’re putting your pitcher in a tough spot.”
Instead, Kluber was put in a tougher spot. He pitched to Cabrera. The result was predictable.
“Down and away, and he got extended on it,” Leyland said. “There aren’t many guys who can do that. That’s why he is who he is."
In the eighth, the Indians simply cried uncle, becoming the second straight team to intentionally walk Cabrera to load the bases for cleanup hitter Prince Fielder. And again, like he did with a bases-clearing double Sunday against Texas, a slighted Fielder made the opponent pay. His run-scoring single off Matt Albers put the Tigers ahead 5-1.