September 27, 2022

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2,996 down, 4 to go: Miggy inches closer

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DETROIT — A week to remember at Comerica Park began with a game the Tigers would rather forget.

There wasn’t much beauty in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Yankees, but the sight of Miguel Cabrera’s second-inning single off Gerrit Cole brought the loudest ovation of the night from the crowd that braved the chilly temperatures, in no small part to watch Cabrera’s march toward 3,000 hits. He’s four shy with five games left in this homestand – two more against the Yankees, then a three-game series against the Rockies.

It was an example of how Cabrera’s hit chase is different from his pursuit of 500 home runs last summer. He admittedly felt the pressure sitting on 499 home runs during a six-game homestand last August, and he swung for Comerica Park’s deep fences sometimes as a result. In this case, line drives onto the ballpark’s vast outfield grass will do.

As Cabrera said last weekend: “It’s different because, like I said before, you can get a hit in a different way. But home runs, it’s really hard.”

The math is in his favor for giving Detroit the celebration it had to watch from afar last summer, when he hit his 500th home run in Toronto. His teammates and coaches are making every effort to not only let him enjoy it, but soak it in themselves.

“I think we’re all going to look back at this and really be proud we were a part of this, in a small way, and get to witness it firsthand,” manager A.J. Hinch said before Tuesday’s game. “The pursuit has been fun. I think when he gets there, it will be a collective exhale for all of us, and we’re really relishing the opportunity to be around Miggy at this point.”

With the weather expected to warm up over the course of the week, leading into the 70s by the weekend, they’ll likely have plenty of company with fans in the stands.

Cabrera entered Tuesday’s game just 3-for-19 with seven strikeouts in his career against Yankees starter Gerrit Cole. Cabrera had a two-homer game off Cole, but that was in Spring Training a few years ago. However, Cabrera stepped to the plate leading off the bottom of the second inning knowing Cole had sat for a while — 25 minutes to be exact — with temperatures barely above 40 degrees.

Cabrera took his first four pitches against Cole, including a 3-0 fastball for a strike. He chased a cutter from Cole off the plate to run the count full, but he was ready when Cole tried to finish him off with a high slider on the outside edge.

The resulting swing was nice and easy, sending a line drive into center at 100.7 mph. It also led off a rally that chased Cole from the game with two outs in what was a 46-pitch inning for him. Cabrera got to trot his way home on three consecutive walks, capped by Willi Castro’s 11-pitch battle with Cole with the bases loaded. Robbie Grossman’s sacrifice fly brought home another run and an Austin Meadows walk reloaded the bases before Clarke Schmidt struck out Jonathan Schoop to end Detroit’s best threat.

“Our at-bats were pretty tough,” Hinch said. “We just lacked that one big hit in a couple different instances.”

The crowd was less receptive when Schmidt hit Cabrera with a pitch in the next inning.

“I told him at second base I didn’t mean to hit him,” Schmidt said. “He’s such a prolific character in this sport. You see the response from the crowd tonight, and what he’s done for this sport, it’s nothing less than amazing. So to be able to get a big strikeout [in the fifth inning] was a special moment for myself. It was cool to be able to face him, and to have his name on the lineup card for my first career win is a special moment for me, as well.”

The crowd that stuck it out was seemingly on the verge of being rewarded when Cabrera batted in the seventh with the potential tying run on second and potential go-ahead run on first. Again, he worked a 3-0 count, this time against Clay Holmes, whose wild pitch advanced both runners. Cabrera, though, swung at the 3-0 pitch, a well-placed sinker on the inside corner. Holmes came back with another sinker, this time over the plate, but Cabrera grounded it to third, where Josh Donaldson fired home to retire Schoop at the plate.

It was a frustrating game for Cabrera, even if the milestone crept closer.

“I still think Miggy, since Day 1 [that] I’ve been here, he’s been about trying to win the game,” Hinch said beforehand. “He wants to do it in a win and he wants to continue to help his team win. He’s handling it about as even-keeled as you probably can.”

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