For the past few years, Lloyd McClendon got to watch opposing managers gnash their teeth and develop ulcers at the thought of dealing with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. As the longtime Tigers hitting coach, McClendon got to enjoy watching Cabrera and Martinez pummel pitches..
On Friday night, he got to experience the other side of the hitting barrage. Cabrera blasted a mammoth two-run homer in the third inning and Martinez lined a three-run homer over the wall in right field in the fifth inning, leading the Tigers to a 6-3 win over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
Cabrera and Martinez found their old hitting coach before the game and engulfed him in a dual bear hug behind the batting cages.
The reunion was fun. The game wasn’t.
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“Not under the circumstances tonight, no,” McClendon said. “I’m glad this day is over and we can get back to normalcy. Hopefully, we can get back to winning games.”
Still, McClendon’s fondness and respect for both hitters has been evident since the Mariners hired him. He has used both players as models for their approach, effort and diligence in preparing for games.
They offered a first-hand example Friday. Both players singled off Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma in the first inning.
But those were just warm-up hits.
In the third inning, Iwakuma gave up a two-out single to Torii Hunter to bring Cabrera, the reigning two-time American League MVP, to the plate. Iwakuma tried to sneak an elevated fastball on the inside part of the plate past Cabrera. It didn’t happen. Cabrera was ready for it and crushed a towering fly ball into the Mariners’ bullpen for his ninth homer of the season. The distance was estimated at just less than 400 feet.
“I wanted to go up and in tight,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “That’s where I wanted that pitch. I’ve pitched to him many times in the past and I’ve located that pitch there and was able to get outs. But today, he got to that pitch. You look at him. He’s a monster.”
The Mariners (26-28) were able to answer against Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ ace and former Cy Young award winner, in the fourth inning. Justin Smoak drew a two-out walk and Kyle Seager followed with a homer, launching a 95 mph fastball from Verlander deep into the right field seats to tie the game at 2-2. It was his team-leading eighth homer of the season.
The score didn’t stay tied for long.
Iwakuma found more trouble in the fifth inning. With two outs and Ian Kinsler on second base, McClendon opted to intentionally walk Cabrera and face Martinez. The American League’s leading hitter made that decision hurt. Martinez, who came into the game hitting .344, battled Iwakuma, fouling off five straight pitches on a 2-2 count. And on the 10th pitch, Iwakuma made the mistake of hanging a slider that Martinez didn’t miss, driving a low liner over the wall in right field. It was his team-high 13th homer of the season.
“I was trying to win the game,” McClendon said of his decision. “It didn’t work. We didn’t execute.”
Martinez had plenty to do with that.
“We knew that technically we still had a base open,” Zunino said. “We wanted to be as perfect as we could working that (outside) corner. We did a good job until that last pitch. He put a great at-bat together. We wanted to go backdoor slider and it just caught a little too much plate and was a little up. It’s just the season he’s having. He’s so locked in.”
Martinez has hit 13 homers and struck out 13 times this season.
“I’ve never seen a player who has the concentration every single pitch that Victor has on a nightly basis,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “The only time I see his concentration go up even higher is when he sees someone get walked in front of him.”
The five runs from the two homers were more than enough for Verlander, particularly facing a Mariners lineup without Robinson Cano. But Rajai Davis provided another run, blasting the first pitch he saw from Charlie Furbush to start the seventh inning into the upper patio of Edgar’s Cantina in left field for his fourth homer of the season.
Verlander, who has struggled at Safeco, worked 72/3 innings, giving up three runs on six hits with a walk and seven strikeouts to improve to 6-4.
“He threw the ball fairly decent,” McClendon said of Verlander. “I’ve seen him better, obviously. But that was vintage Justin. He was on his game and his breaking stuff was good.”
Iwakuma (3-2) took his second straight loss, pitching six innings and giving up the five runs on eight hits.
“I didn’t see the finish to his pitches that he usually has,” McClendon said. “He’s probably got a little bit of tired arm, not having a spring training and going as deep in ball games as he’s gone. It’s probably something that’s normal and something to be expected.”
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