Cabrera tracked the flight of Delmon Young's eighth-inning drive in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Rangers and expected a tough play, but he had no idea how great Nelson Cruz's laser from right field would be.
"I thought it was going to be close," Cabrera said after the Tigers' 7-3 loss in 11 innings. "I thought I had a better chance; he made a perfect throw right there."
Cruz and catcher Mike Napoli, slammed into by Cabrera on his fruitless dash to score, would haunt the Tigers in different ways by the 11th inning. Napoli made a strong throw to cut down Austin Jackson stealing in a key spot and added a go-ahead RBI single that preceded Cruz's three-run homer.
But the Texas duo may have saved the game in the eighth. With the score tied at 3, Rangers manager Ron Washington elected to intentionally walk Cabrera with one out and nobody on, signaling Napoli to flash four fingers for left-hander Mike Adams.
"We tried to pitch around Cabrera twice, and he got us," said Washington, who watched Cabrera rake big run-scoring hits in Games 3 and 4. "So this time I wasn't taking any chances. It almost came back and bit me, but he's the best baseball player out there."
Adams got the ground ball he wanted from Victor Martinez, but it was a chopper that went into right field, prompting Martinez to emphatically wave Cabrera to third base as he chugged down the first-base line.
"I respect Martinez a heck of a lot," Washington said. "He got that base hit and we almost paid for it, but I certainly wasn't going to let [Cabrera] have a swing of the bat there and beat us."
That brought up Young, who'd been 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, and he lifted a deep fly to right field. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he'd had no inclination to pinch-hit, nor to pinch-run for Cabrera.
"I'm not going to hit for Delmon Young," Leyland said. "He's our third hitter. He's a professional hitter. He's one of the better hitters. And I thought it was a great decision to send [Cabrera].
"If the throw is off-line, he makes it. If not, he's out. Other than Austin Jackson, it might have been closer, obviously, but ... I don't know that anybody would have made it if he threw it on the money."
With Cabrera charging home, Cruz uncorked a strike to the plate, just to the fair territory side of the base line.
"Thank God I made a really good throw -- one hop," Cruz said. "I threw it to Napoli so this time he can stay with the ball."
Beaten by several feet, Cruz's throw left Cabrera no option than to try and bowl Napoli over.
"I don't know. I tried to make something happen, be safe at home," Cabrera said. "I tried to score."
But Napoli had enough time and presence of mind to prepare for the impact, absorbing Cabrera's hit.
"He has one of the best arms in the game," Napoli said of Cruz. "He came up firing and gave me a good one hop."
Unlike in the AL Division Series, when the Rays' Sean Rodriguez obliterated his former Angels teammate in a Game 4 collision, Napoli held on to the ball.
"I know in that situation, there's probably going to be a collision at the plate or it's going to be a close play," Napoli said. "[It's a] crucial time of the game. Nellie gave me a great throw, gave me enough time to where I can brace and get low, and just a great play."
Unfortunately for the Tigers, it wouldn't be their only curious call of the night. A Scott Feldman pitch brushed the front of Jackson's jersey in the 10th inning, putting the potential winning run on base with one out.
Jackson has had a green light most of the year, and Leyland said he agreed with the decision to steal "100 percent." Given the situation to be a hero, Jackson was going to make use of his freedom.
"Honestly, that's what I was thinking about there -- I have a chance here to win this ballgame if I'm able to steal this base," Jackson said. "It just didn't happen."
Napoli fired a strike to second base, cutting down Jackson, and Ryan Raburn struck out to end the inning.
It was costly. Assuming Raburn hadn't hit into a double play, Cabrera would have had a chance to bat with the winning run on base. Jackson said that he had received a nudge from first-base coach Tom Brookens.
"Brooky said, 'If you get a jump, be aggressive. Don't be afraid to make a mistake,'" Jackson said. "Obviously, I'd have liked it to work."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.