LOS ANGELES — Miguel Cabrera hadn’t homered in a while, but he knew the feeling. It showed in the look on his face and the trot in his step: He knew his drive was headed into the left-field seats of Dodger Stadium.
He was all over a hanging slider from Phil Bickford, and he crushed it for his 503rd career home run. The 426-foot drive was his longest drive in a year since his 489th career home run went 445 feet to left-center against the White Sox in Chicago. It was his longest drive off a non-fastball since his two-homer game against the Twins on Sept. 23, 2020.
The reaction from the crowd of 51,172 at Dodger Stadium was a combination of cheers and boos as Cabrera put his head down and rounded the bases. Unlike many of his hits this season, there was little celebration this time, since there was still work to do.
Sunday’s two-run homer put the Tigers on the board, but the Dodgers continued to hold what looked like a comfortable eighth-inning lead. By the time Cabrera stepped on deck in the ninth, though, Austin Meadows was batting ahead of him as the potential tying run. Craig Kimbrel retired Meadows to finish off the Tigers’ 6-3 loss and wrap up Detroit’s 1-5 road trip, but both Cabrera and his team had shown signs of life.
“We gave them a little fight at the end,” said manager A.J. Hinch. “We are going to play the 27 outs. I’m proud of that, and I’m encouraged by the better at-bats today. Obviously the game in its entirety, we didn’t play well enough to win, but offensively at least we’re inching closer.”
Cabrera struck out swinging in his first three plate appearances Sunday against Dodgers ace Walker Buehler. He hadn’t put a ball in play since grounding out three times against Clayton Kershaw on Saturday, and hadn’t squared up a ball since Gavin Lux robbed him of two RBIs in Friday’s series opener by unshifting him and snaring his line drive up the middle.
“Miguel is always trying to have some good ABs,” said Jeimer Candelario, whose ninth-inning solo homer crept Detroit closer. “Early in his ABs today, he was grinding. Thank God he got that pitch that he could drive.”
Cabrera hadn’t homered since Sept. 1 of last season. Once he’d joined the 500-homer club and the pressure to swing for the fences was off, he became much more of a line-drive hitter, batting .296 over the final month of last season and .258 for April of this season as he crossed the 3,000-hit milestone.
Now the pressure for both numbers is off, though Cabrera is still making history among Hall of Famers. His 3,004th career hit put him within three of Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline, for 31st on MLB’s all-time list, sure to be an emotional milestone when he reaches it. His next home run will tie him with Eddie Murray for 27th place. He now has 1,119 extra-base hits, tying him with George Brett for 18th all-time.
Cabrera’s next double will be the 600th of his career. He’ll join good friend Albert Pujols and Hank Aaron as the only players all-time with 600 doubles, 3,000 hits and 500 homers in their careers. Cabrera and Aaron would be the only players with those cumulative totals along with a .300 career batting average.
Still, the hits have been harder to find lately. Cabrera was 2-for-22 since getting his 3,000th and 3,001st career hits against the Rockies last Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park. He has been more relaxed, more able to focus on trying to win rather than individual milestones, but he has still been struggling.
Sunday showed how much the Tigers still need him. With Spencer Torkelson getting a much-needed day off amidst a 3-for-25, 12-strikeout stretch, and Candelario and Jonathan Schoop both batting lower in the order during their own tough times, Cabrera batted third or fourth in all five of his starts this road trip.
Cabrera’s first homer this season was the Tigers’ ninth of 2022; Candelario’s drive off Justin Bruihl made it 10. By contrast, Yankees slugger Anthony Rizzo leads MLB with nine.
Hinch expects that his team will hit for more power as the weather warms, and that should go for Cabrera, too. Sunday was a reminder of the impact his big hits can make.