But in Game 2, Cabrera was greeted by a familiar foe in Freddy Garcia -- and he didn't take long reintroducing himself. In his first at-bat of the game, the Detroit first baseman hit an opposite-field homer to the short porch in right field to put the Tigers ahead for good in a 5-3 victory Sunday.
It was Cabrera's fourth homer against Garcia in 30 career plate appearances. After an RBI single in the sixth, Cabrera finished the day 11-for-26 (.423) against the righty with nine RBIs in his career.
"I've faced him a lot," Cabrera said. "I faced him when he was in Philadelphia. I faced him when he was in Chicago. I know him very well. I got a lot of at-bats against him."
Cabrera was pivotal in turning things around for a Tigers squad that managed just three runs and one extra-base hit against the Yankees in Game 1. He also received a little help from Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who made an error to allow Austin Jackson to reach base to lead off the sixth. Jackson would come around to score on Cabrera's line drive to shallow center in the Tigers' two-run sixth.
Though the Tigers again had only one extra-base hit, they received key hits when they needed them. The sixth inning, especially, displayed their ability to score insurance runs when presented the opportunity. After Cabrera's single, Victor Martinez followed with a ground ball through the middle of the infield to bring Don Kelly home and give the Tigers a 4-0 lead. It was the looming threat of Martinez that caused Yankees manager Joe Girardi to have Garcia pitch to Cabrera in the first place.
"You can [walk Cabrera], but the next guy has got to hit," Girardi said. "If you look at the success Victor Martinez has had behind him with runners in scoring position and you start walking a lot of people, you can get in a lot of trouble."
Cabrera's efforts and those of his teammates helped the Tigers' lineup regain the form it had displayed over the final month of the season. Detroit led the Major Leagues with 173 runs in September to help the Tigers clinch their first division title since 1987.
The offensive uptick was especially important for Cabrera, given that it came during the playoffs. Outside of a torrid 10-for-33, three-homer performance during the 2003 NLCS, he has not been particularly impressive during October. In his last postseason series against the Yankees, the 2003 World Series, he nearly disappeared to the tune of a .200 on-base percentage coupled with a .292 slugging percentage. The lone bright spot of that performance was his home run against Roger Clemens in Game 4.
Since then, he has developed into a star and become one of the league's fiercest hitter. If he can continue to step up in big moments, the Tigers could make a run deep into October.
"We work for this," Cabrera said. "We work to get to the playoffs. We work to get a chance to win the World Series, if you get a chance. When you're here, you have nothing to lose. You have to go out there and play hard and try to do your job."
Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.