KANSAS CITY – The sight of Miguel Cabrera pumping his fist behind home plate Thursday night could well be a snapshot of his love affair with Kauffman Stadium.
He has always loved to hit here. This is where he fittingly celebrated his Triple Crown on the final day of the 2012 regular season. If he keeps hitting this weekend like he did Thursday, he could enter the 3,000-hit club in the same spot, a decade later, just ahead of his 39th birthday on Monday.
“I feel like in this stadium you can get a lot of hits because it’s really big,” Cabrera said. “I think you don’t get a lot of home runs, but you try to put the ball in play and see what happens.”
He’s at 2,994 career hits after going 3-for-4 in the Tigers’ 4-2 win over the Royals to open their four-game series. He’s 7-for-17 for his career off Brad Keller, Friday’s scheduled starter for Kansas City. He’s 4-for-12 off Kris Bubic, who starts Saturday. And unlike last summer’s home run chase, he doesn’t have to swing for the fences.
With the lineup the Tigers have assembled, Cabrera can spray line drives around the park and help this team win, which is more important to him than milestones.
“I try to go out there and play my best baseball and help the guys,” he said. “I know it’s a lot of pressure. I know there’s a lot of eyes on me. But at the same time, I’m in a good position right now. I’m happy to be here and hopefully we can win more games. I think that’s more important. If we win, I think the numbers are going to be there.”
The numbers he has put up here at Kauffman Stadium are already there. That’s why, if there’s any place in the American League other than Comerica Park for him to become just the seventh player in history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, this is it.
Cabrera’s 134 hits at Kauffman Stadium trail only Progressive Field (139) for his highest hit total as a visiting player. Thursday marked his 11th career game here with three or more hits, four of them since 2020.
“He continues to put some pretty good at-bats against us,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “It seems like they’re always flipping some sort of number that’s really big in the outfield whenever we’re playing in Detroit. He’s always getting really close to some sort of milestone. The longevity of this game, that’s what amazes me. …
“There was a period in time where I don’t know if there was a tougher out in all of baseball. That he continues to put together really good at-bats — those big numbers come from doing things really well for a long time. It’s impressive.”
He loves playing here, and Thursday’s fist-pump was a reflection. Funny thing was, he was celebrating his baserunning, having challenged Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi in the second inning on a Harold Castro fly ball. The throw beat Cabrera to the plate, but was just wide enough for him to slide around Salvador Perez’s tag for the Tigers’ second run.
“Like Speedy Gonzales,” Cabrera joked. “I was tired after that.”
The dugout, by contrast, was energized.
“It was hilarious, honestly,” starting pitcher Casey Mize said. “I’m trying to stay focused, but I’m seeing that happen.”
The single that put Cabrera on base earlier in the inning was a solid line drive to left-center field at 101.6 miles per hour, his first of two hits off Zack Greinke. They first faced each other in this same ballpark 15 years ago, when Cabrera was a 23-year-old Marlin and Greinke was a 23-year-old swingman.
Greinke struck him out in their lone meeting that Sunday afternoon. But in the present, Cabrera was all over everything Greinke threw him Thursday. After centering Greinke’s sinker in the second inning, Cabrera led off the fourth by passing him on a first-pitch slider out of the zone, then hitting a hanging curveball for another single to left.
“I got a really good idea what he’s going to do to me,” Cabrera said, “so I guessed good and tried to put a good swing today.”
Cabrera went to his classic opposite-field swing against rookie reliever Collin Snyder in the sixth for his third hit of the day. It wasn’t enough to score Austin Meadows from second, but it still got him one hit closer to history.