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DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer have been so spectacularly successful this season they’re earning the right to be mentioned in the same breath with some of baseball’s greats.
Cabrera hit his 40th home run and had an RBI single to help Scherzer become baseball’s first 18-game winner this season as the Detroit Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals 6-3 today to win the five-game series.
“Both of them are on a roll that you don’t see very often,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “Tigers fans could go years without ever seeing something like that again.”
Cabrera became the third player since 1921 to have at least 40 homers and 120 RBIs while batting .350 or better through 116 games, joining Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx, according to STATS.
“That’s nice,” Cabrera said with a touch of awe as he looked at a list of the impressive company he joined.
Scherzer (18-1) gave up two runs on five hits over eight innings. Scherzer and Roger Clemens are the pitchers since 1919 to have 18 wins in their first 19 decisions as starters, STATS said. Clemens did it with the New York Yankees in 2001, when he finished 20-3.
“It’s great because I respect what he was able to do throughout his career and in that season,” Scherzer said. “But the win-loss record is a little fluky. Every time I go out, the guys are putting up runs for me and are playing great defense so I can’t take credit for being 18-1.”
Royals manager Ned Yost said before the game that intentionally walking Cabrera wasn’t a good option because Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez hit behind him.
After Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the first inning and a run-scoring single in the third, Yost chose to give Cabrera a free pass in the fifth inning with a runner on third and Fielder followed with an inning-ending groundout. Cabrera has eight homers in 13 games.
The reigning Triple Crown winner leads the majors in batting (.360) and RBIs (120). Cabrera’s home run pulled him within four of Baltimore’s Chris Davis for the big league lead, then Davis hit his 45th later in the day.
“We don’t worry about him,” Cabrera said. “We focus on what we can do here in Detroit.”
Cabrera connected a day after his leadoff home run in the ninth inning beat Kansas City. The third-place Royals lost three of five this weekend and left Comerica Park, trailing the AL Central-leading Tigers by 8½ games.
“This club is not going away,” Leyland said, referring to the Royals. “Cleveland is not going away.”
Joaquin Benoit entered in the ninth in a non-save situation and gave up a solo homer to the first batter he faced, Billy Butler, on a 1-2 pitch to let the Royals pull within three runs.
Bruce Chen (5-1) allowed six earned runs — more than he had given up in his last six starts — on eight hits over 5 1-3 innings. Chen didn’t regret either of the two pitches he threw to Cabrera that were hit, watching him pull an outside fastball and a cutter several inches inside and off the plate.
“When he’s on, I don’t think you can throw anything around him,” Chen said.
Austin Jackson led off with a single on Chen’s second pitch and Cabrera followed with a line drive over the left-field wall.
Cabrera became the third player in franchise history to hit 40 homers in consecutive seasons. Hank Greenberg did it during the 1937 and 1938 seasons while Cecil Fielder pulled off the feat in 1990 and 1991.
Cabrera put Detroit up 3-0 in the third with a single, taking advantage of a pitch to hit when Yost chose not to walk him with Torii Hunter on second base.
The Royals had only one hit through three innings and two after six innings. They scored two runs on three hits in the seventh against Scherzer.
NOTES: Detroit hopes 2B Omar Infante, who left Saturday night’s game with back stiffness, can return to play Tuesday night against the Twins. ... Kansas City kept 3B Mike Moustakas out of the lineup as planned, a day after he returned from an injured left calf. ... Scherzer and Chen were the first pitchers to enter a game with a combined record of 22-1, with both having at least five decisions, since 1919, STATS said. ... Scherzer had four strikeouts, ending his 24-game streak with at least five strikeouts, the third longest streak to begin a season by an AL pitcher, trailing Bob Feller (1946) and Pedro Martinez (2000). ... Kansas City LF Alex Gordon made quite a catch, getting to Martinez’s fly and holding onto the ball after hitting the wall hard and falling on his back in a daze.