"They started screaming," Cabrera said, "like, 'He's going to be out! He's going to be out!' I said, 'No, he's going to be safe. He was safe.'"
After further review, Rajai Davis was safe. Three batters later, Cabrera broke their hearts by hitting a home run.
As his go-ahead, three-run homer cleared the fence in left-center field at Camden Yards, sending the Tigers on their way to a 4-1 comeback victory, Cabrera dropped Austin Jackson's jaw in amazement. It was Cabrera's 13th career go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later, and Jackson has seen many of them. He's always in awe.
"Each time," Jackson said afterwards, still smiling. "In that situation, it definitely does. That's not easy to do anytime, but especially in a clutch, clutch situation."
Jackson was on base the last time Cabrera hit a game-changing home run off a closer. That was last Aug. 9, at Yankee Stadium against the great Mariano Rivera.
"That's what it reminded me of," Jackson said.
He wasn't the only one thinking of that. When Torii Hunter saw Cabrera homer off Rivera that night, he was nearly speechless. When he stepped to the plate Tuesday against Orioles closer Tommy Hunter with Cabrera on deck, all he could think about was giving him a chance to do it again.
"Once I battled [out of a 1-2 count], got myself back, I said, 'All right, Miggy's coming up,'" Torii Hunter said. "That's what I want to do, just battle. Either I hit the homer or hit a double, or get Miggy up to the plate. That was the perfect scenario."
Cabrera realizes the scenario. He just can't think of it that way.
"It's a chance to win or lose. You don't want to think too much of it and be afraid to fail," Cabrera said. "You have to go out there and try, see what happens."
The Tigers were hoping not to have to rely on the long ball as much, and they largely haven't. After seven 1-0 losses last season, including the playoffs, they were in line for their first on Tuesday.
The Tigers geared their offense this year towards finding different ways to score when they need runs most. After struggling for eight innings to manufacture a run against Ubaldo Jimenez and the Orioles' bullpen, hampered by three outs on the basepaths, they built their biggest ninth-inning rally so far this season the usual way.
"To be honest, we don't want to be in that situation," Cabrera said. "We want to have the lead in the ninth."
They'll take it. Clearly, so will Cabrera, who spent most of April trying to work on his swing to get that kind of power back. It was his latest game-changing homer, but it was arguably his most satisfying.
For eight innings, it was another home run that stood as the difference. Drew Smyly felt he threw a good 3-1 fastball on the inside corner to Adam Jones, but Jones pulled it down the left-field line for his fifth home run of the year.
"At that point, it's the first inning," Smyly said. "I wanted him to hit it. I wasn't trying to fool him. He turned on it pretty good. It stinks that it went out."
Smyly kept the Orioles squandering opportunities from there, stranding the bases loaded in the third, but he never pitched with an even score from there. Jimenez flustered his former American League Central foes by allowing just three baserunners over the first six innings, erasing two of them on strike 'em out, throw 'em out double plays.
The Tigers didn't get a runner into scoring position until the seventh, when Torii Hunter hit a leadoff single and Cabrera drew a four-pitch walk. Jimenez was out of it two pitches later with Hunter thrown out trying to take third base on a pitch in the dirt, followed by a Martinez double play.
They got another chance in the ninth with Alex Avila's leadoff single, but nearly had a fourth baserunning out. It took a 2-minute, 18-second review, but an angle on replay showed pinch-runner Davis seemingly getting his hand to the bag ahead of J.J. Hardy's tag. The overturned call gave the Tigers just their second runner in scoring position.
Just as important, it gave them another out with Cabrera looming three batters away. As Torii Hunter stepped to the plate with two outs, showered by boos from Orioles fans for his benches-clearing argument with Bud Norris on Monday, that was his focus.
The other Hunter, a pitch away from the save, was thinking along the same lines.
"You can't let arguably one of the best hitters in the game come to the plate," Tommy Hunter said. "You've got to throw a strike right there, and I missed."
With nowhere to put the two-time reigning AL MVP, Hunter tried speeding up his bat with an inside fastball to set up a curveball. Cabrera said he anticipated that.
"When he threw me the inside pitch, I knew he was probably going to throw away or something like that," Cabrera said. "After that, I want to put a good swing on the ball."
Said Tommy Hunter: "I just didn't get it down. I throw curveballs to everybody. I'm not going to change up my game plan. I've got a fastball and a curveball. He hit it."
Cabrera drove it over the fence in left-center for his sixth home run of the season and a 3-1 lead. Martinez followed with a no-doubt drive onto Eutaw Street beyond right field, the first Tigers home run to land there since Mickey Tettleton hit one off Ben McDonald in Camden Yards' inaugural season of 1992.
Justin Miller (1-0), who pitched two innings of scoreless relief, suddenly was in line for his first Major League win. Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his ninth save.
Smyly got a no-decision for his six innings of one-run ball. He'll take it.
"I feel like when he doesn't do it, you're just so used to him getting a home run or a clutch hit," Smyly said. "I thank Miggy every day I get to be his teammate. He's the best player there is, especially in a moment like that."