KANSAS CITY - The Tigers got what they expect will be a sneak preview of coming attractions on Tuesday night. Miguel Cabrera stings the opposition and Prince Fielder comes along to double the pain.
The headliners in the middle of Detroit's lineup came through at crunch time. Cabrera's RBI single in the eighth inning snapped a tie and Fielder followed with another run-scoring hit to boost the Tigers to a 3-1 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
The big guys did it not with the home run, but by using the middle of the diamond. Both RBI hits went to center field.
With left-hander Drew Smyly allowing just one run (none earned) over six innings and the bullpen trio of Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde doing their thing, it was a satisfying evening for manager Jim Leyland.
Cabrera had entered the game in an 0-for-22 skid, but he delivered a third-inning single and then was clutch against Kansas City reliever Greg Holland in the eighth when he rapped a grounder through the middle.
"It feels good to have that hit, especially late in the game when you need it to win the game," Cabrera said. "You've got to keep working and make something happen."
Cabrera's 0-for-22 coming into the game didn't bother Leyland. The Tigers manager just writes Cabrera's name in the No. 3 slot and waits for good things to happen.
"Cabrera is going to hit," Leyland said. "It's in the books. With the numbers he has put up in his career, I'm not going to say anything to Cabrera about hitting. He knows twice as much about hitting as I do. Cabrera will be fine. If I have to worry about Cabrera, we're in trouble."
Leyland presumably won't have to worry about Fielder, either. When Fielder stroked his RBI single, it gave the Detroit bullpen more margin for error.
Three runs looked huge on a night when Smyly turned in his second encouraging start, despite being smacked in the back by an Alcides Escobar liner in the third.
"I was able to get deep into the game," Smyly said. "Six innings, one run. I'll be happy with that all year."
Smyly took several warmup throws after being hit by the Escobar liner. Leyland and the Tigers' medical staff looked on closely.
"It got me pretty good, but it got me right in the muscle," Smyly said. "It just kind of stung for a little bit."
Smyly, who grew up in Little Rock. Ark., and pitched at the University of Arkansas, estimated having about 15 to 20 friends and family at Tuesday's game. For those who drove in from Arkansas, it was a worthwhile trip.
"He doesn't rattle much," Leyland said. "He's poised for a young kid. I thought he threw the ball exceptionally well and I like the way he used his fastball. He mixed in the cutter, but I like that fastball."
The Tigers will go for a series sweep on Wednesday against a reeling Royals club. Kansas City has dropped six in a row.
Royals left-hander Bruce Chen held the Tigers to one run through seven innings on Tuesday. But left-handed-hitting Andy Dirks, who was in the lineup over right-handed hitters because Leyland felt Dirks could solve the lefty, rewarded his manager's trust.
Dirks started the eighth with a sharp single to right. The Royals brought on Holland, but a one-out single by Brennan Boesch put Cabrera in a spot to drive in the game-winner.
"This is a game where, if you let the bad times get to you, it can really roll downhill," Holland said. "Bruce threw a heck of a game and I just didn't get it done."
Although Tiger pitching has limited Kansas City to a combined three runs over the opening two games of the series, Leyland expects the Royals to do a lot of offensive damage this year.
"I just want to play [Wednesday] and get out of here," Leyland said. "That's a really good offensive team."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.