DETROIT -- Hours after Miguel Cabrera hit the last pitch out Saturday night, he sent the first pitch he saw out on Sunday afternoon. Like Saturday's walk-off homer, his two-run shot Sunday gave the Tigers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
The way Max Scherzer was pitching on his way to his 18th win, he didn't need much more.
"When I'm able to give the team a chance to win, Miggy hits a bomb, the rest of the lineup does their job, that just makes us a great team," Scherzer said.
After four evenly matched games with the Royals, Sunday's 6-3 Detroit win in the rubber match was a reminder why the Tigers control the American League Central. While Kansas City is enjoying what could end up being their first winning season in 10 years, fans at Comerica Park are watching a potentially historic season on several levels. Sunday was a confluence of them, from Cabrera's continued Triple Crown chase to Scherzer's historic 18-1 record.
Even manager Jim Leyland got a reminder of that earlier this week from his good friend, Tony La Russa.
"He said, 'Make sure you're enjoying that, because it's unbelievable what you're doing,'" Leyland said. "When you're concentrating on managing and making out the lineup and pitching changes, stuff like that, sometimes you don't really get to enjoy it like a fan or a player."
He's enjoying it as a manager. Detroit took three out of five in the series, knocking Kansas City 8 1/2 games back in the AL Central. If not for Cabrera's last 24 hours, the Royals could have easily taken this series. If Cabrera needed any more evidence in his case for a second consecutive AL MVP award, this might be it.
Cabrera's 39th and 40th homers came hours apart, but on consecutive pitches. Saturday's shot was a walk-off homer off a 96-mph fastball from former All-Star reliever Aaron Crow that Cabrera sent into the right-field corner. On Sunday, he jumped a first-pitch 85-mph heater from crafty left-hander Bruce Chen and sent it deep to left.
"We wanted to stay aggressive today," Cabrera said. "We were ready to swing the bat. We scored early, and that was key."
Cabrera never had a base hit against Crow until Saturday. Sunday's drive was his fifth career homer off Chen.
"It was just a good fastball," Chen said. "It was a little up and it was away, and he shouldn't be pulling it, but he pulled it."
Cabrera hit his 40th homer of the year in Detroit's 124th game, a full month earlier than last season and earlier than any Tigers player since Hank Greenberg got there in just 109 games in 1938. Greenberg's 58 home runs that year stand as the franchise record.
Chen entered Sunday on a roll, having tossed 14 2/3 scoreless innings on eight hits over his previous two starts. Right-handed hitters were batting just .177 against him this season, victims of a cutter he could sneak in against them.
Chen tried throwing Cabrera one of those his next time up after a 68-mph breaking ball that registered as an eephus pitch on MLB.com's Gameday application. Cabrera turned on the cutter and lined it into left field for a two-out single, scoring Torii Hunter from second base for his Major League-best 120th RBI and a 3-0 lead.
"If he lets it go, I think it's six or eight inches in," Chen said, "and he just made it look like I left it out over the middle of the plate."
Five of Detroit's eight hits against Chen went for extra bases, including back-to-back fifth-inning doubles from Jose Iglesias and Austin Jackson to set up Hunter for a sacrifice fly and Brayan Pena's sixth-inning RBI double over center fielder Jarrod Dyson's head to knock Chen out of the game.
Scherzer took that cushion and attacked Royals hitters with relative ease. It wasn't the high-strikeout form he has displayed for most of the year, fanning a season-low four batters over eight innings, but it might have been his best command. Not only did he not issue a walk, he reached just a handful of three-ball counts.
"For me, it was the command of the fastball," Scherzer said. "I really thought I did a great job of commanding it to both sides of the plate against lefties and righties. I felt like that allowed me to be successful in not walking anybody. When you combine it with I thought I was pitching with four pitches again -- slider, changeup and curveball were all really good today -- it allowed me to pitch efficiently and pitch deep into the game."
It also allowed him to pitch deeper into the record books. Scherzer became the fifth Major League pitcher since 1912 to win at least 18 of his first 19 decisions, according to STATS. He joined Roger Clemens as the only Major League pitchers to go 18-1 with all of their wins as starters.
Roy Face went 18-1 for the 1959 Pirates. Don Newcombe started out 18-1 on his way to a 20-5 season for the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. Rube Marquard holds the standard with a 19-0 start for the 1912 Giants. All of them, though, had at least one win in relief.
Scherzer's next start is an All-Star Game rematch with Matt Harvey and the Mets on Saturday at Citi Field. A win there would move him within a victory of Clemens' 20-1 start with the 2001 Yankees.
"I've always said the win-loss record is a little flukey," Scherzer said. "Every time I go out, the guys are putting up runs for me, making all the plays. So I can't take credit for 18-1. I mean, It's just stupid if I were to take [credit]. The rest of my teammates are doing so much for me."