Miguel Cabrera heaped pressure on his broad shoulders early last year, trying to live up to his $152 million deal with the Detroit Tigers while adjusting to the AL.
After starting slowly, Cabrera finished strongly and led the league in homers.
Now, he’s picking up where he left off.
Cabrera hit a grand slam for his third homer in five games and matched his career high with six RBIs, leading Detroit over the Texas Rangers 15-2 Friday in its home opener.
“I feel more comfortable,” he said. “Last year, I had a lot of adjustments to make with a new league and new pitchers. Now, I know what I’m doing.”
If Cabrera didn’t before, that’s truly a scary thought for pitchers.
He hit 37 home runs last year and had a career-high 127 RBIs after Detroit acquired him from the Florida Marlins for prospects and made him one of the richest athletes in the world.
“If we had a real good year last year, he would’ve been an MVP candidate,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “He didn’t even get mentioned. He’s getting better and he’s already one of the best players in the game.”
Cabrera has certainly started off that way, hitting .611 with 10 RBIs.
The slugger and starting pitcher Armando Galarraga, who had a career-high eight strikeouts, gave 44,588 fans plenty of reasons to cheer after bolstering low expectations by losing three of four games in Toronto.
Leyland said his “heart aches” for people in the Motor City, who have lost jobs or are clinging onto them, and hopes the Tigers can provide a diversion during these tough times.
“You’d like to perk them up a little bit,” Leyland said. “I think there’s a little a silver lining in the clouds when you have a sports team that is doing well and people can get away for a few hours and forget their frustrations.”
Texas, meanwhile, found out its fast start didn’t matter much at Comerica Park.
The Rangers started 3-0 for the first time since 1996, led the majors in runs and were getting solid pitching before Galarraga shut them down and Kris Benson (0-1) got roughed up in his return to the majors.
“Ouch,” manager Ron Washington said. “We couldn’t stop them offensively and we couldn’t get anything going offensively. It was one of those days.”
Benson allowed seven earned runs and 10 hits in five innings, pitching in the big leagues for the first time since Sept. 27, 2006. He missed 2007 after having surgery to repair a torn right rotator cuff.
On Cabrera’s blast, Benson aimed inside and threw it over the middle of the plate to spoil his goal of minimizing big hits.
“I didn’t do it well and it cost us the game,” Benson said.
Galarraga (1-0) gave up a run and five hits in seven innings against the team that traded him to Detroit in February 2008.
“This is one of the best offenses in all of baseball, so that makes it even more impressive,” Leyland said. “You can’t pitch much better than he did.”
Galarraga had a 6.23 ERA in three games for the Rangers in 2007 and found out he had to work much harder to make it in the majors.
“Actually, they made me a better pitcher,” Galarraga said.
Detroit acquired Galarraga from the Rangers for Michael Hernandez, whom they released last year during spring training.
Cabrera and Galarraga were just about the only sources of pride for the Tigers in 2008 when they began the season as a popular pick to win the World Series and an 0-7 start led to them flopping as baseball’s bust of the year.
Galarraga opened last year at Triple-A Toledo and went on to lead AL rookies with 13 wins and 126 strikeouts while ranking third with a 3.73 ERA.
Gerald Laird started Detroit’s scoring barrage with an RBI single in the second and hit a triple in the eighth. The catcher didn’t hit a three-bagger in 95 games for Texas last season.
Brandon Inge, who hit a homer in each of the first three games, was the only player in Detroit’s starting lineup who didn’t have an RBI against the Rangers.
Warner Madrigal replaced Benson in the sixth and things got worse for the Rangers.
Madrigal was charged with four runs after walking three, hitting one and throwing a wild pitch against the Tigers.
“They did everything right today,” Washington said.