Tigers’ combination clicks big time

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 8, 2012
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DETROIT - Gehrig and Ruth, Mantle and Maris, Clemente and Stargell, McGwire and Canseco, Ramirez and Ortiz, Mays and McCovey, Banks and Williams.

Pick your favorite 3-4 combination.

You might add Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder to that list.

If you’re a Tigers fan, you’re going to have fun debating whether it’s the best 3-4 combo ever.

Cabrera and Fielder each homered twice and used Josh Beckett as their personal whipping boy in the Tigers’ 10-0 win over the Red Sox at Comerica Park Saturday.

If Comerica has been characterized as a pitcher’s park, it won’t be much longer with these two monsters a threat to jack one out no matter the situation or who is pitching.

Some baseball people believe the Tigers could score close to 1,000 runs with these two hitting back to back.

Cabrera blasted a two-run homer in the first and a solo shot in the fifth. Fielder hit solo homers in the fourth and fifth innings. Fielder was drilled by a 96-mile-per-hour Matt Albers fastball in the right ankle in the seventh inning and said it stung as he nursed the ankle with an ice pack after the game.

“I think he was trying to get inside,’’ Fielder said rolling his eyes a little bit.

The Tigers, content with their eight-run lead, did not retaliate.

Manager Jim Leyland, Cabrera, and Fielder downplayed the show the two sluggers put on.

“That won’t happen very much off Josh Beckett,’’ Leyland said. “That’s one of those freak days. That won’t happen very often. I don’t expect two homers apiece from those guys. People shouldn’t get carried away. We faced a good pitcher today; it was a freak thing and that won’t happen against a guy like that very often.

“Today we did what we do pretty good - hit the ball in the gaps and out of the ballpark.’’

Fielder and Brewers teammate Ryan Braun formed possibly the most potent 3-4 combination of 2011.

Fielder hit .299 with 38 homers, 120 RBIs, and a .981 OPS, while Braun hit .332 with 33 homers, 111 RBIs, and a league-leading .994 OPS. The duo was broken up when Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers, one of the teams he grew up with when his father Cecil was a big-league player.

Fielder marvels at how great a hitter Cabrera is.

“I can learn a lot just watching his swing,’’ Fielder said. “For a big guy like that, to be able to hit .340 like he does, it’s probably no infield singles and no bunts. It’s pretty amazing. It means you’re putting good wood on the ball. He’s aggressive, but he still walks.’’

Cabrera, who hit .344 last season with a 1.034 OPS, 30 homers, and 105 RBIs, said he would enjoy his two-homer moment, but agreed with Leyland’s assessment that it likely wouldn’t happen often.

Fielder and Cabrera seemed particularly proud hitting their homers against Beckett, whom they consider one of the best in baseball. Cabrera was a former teammate of Beckett’s with the Marlins and he acknowledged, “We took advantage of some of his mistakes today. He usually doesn’t make mistakes like that.’’

Cabrera blasted a 1-and-1 pitch some 412 feet to left-center in the first with Austin Jackson aboard. Beckett seemed to be rattled when the speedy Jackson walked to lead off the game.

“I don’t think there’s any question [that Jackson distracted Beckett],’’ Leyland said. “It looked like divided attention. When you get divided attention with a big hitter like that, that can be costly.’’

Cabrera homered on a 1-and-0 pitch in the fifth inning. His drive to left-center was originally called a double, but the umpires ruled it a home run after viewing a replay that showed it traveled over the yellow line on top of the wall.

Fielder hit an opposite-field homer to left on a 1-and-2 pitch to lead off the fourth, illustrating his tremendous power. And in the fifth, following Cabrera’s blast, he unloaded with a line-drive homer to right. Beckett allowed five homers in all, the fifth by Alex Avila in the fourth.

“I’m just going to enjoy this day,’’ Fielder said. “So far, everything is good. We’re 2-0. Hopefully we can work hard and keep it going. We’re not going to go 162-0, but we just need to keep playing good baseball.’’

Fielder is also impressed with Cabrera’s defense. Cabrera worked extremely hard to pull off the conversion from first base to third to accommodate Fielder, who wanted to play first.

“That was nice,’’ Fielder said. “That’s what I expect. As hard as he worked in spring training, that’s what hard work will do for you. You tend to get luckier more.’’

Owner Mike Ilitch looked on and seemed extremely happy with his two large investments - about $367 million. If they continue to have days like this, Ilitch will get a hefty return.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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