MINNEAPOLIS — Miguel Cabrera has been stepping to the plate with milestones hanging over him all season. But when he returns to Comerica Park and steps in the batter’s box, it’ll be staring him in the face.
With Cabrera, who entered Wednesday’s finale against the Twins, five home runs shy of 500 and 64 hits away from 3,000, the Tigers set up a counter for both totals. It stands atop the brick wall behind the left-field seats, to the left of the retired numbers and statues of past Tigers greats.
“Miggy will enjoy it,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Hopefully he doesn’t pay too much attention to it while he’s competing. But now it feels like every single accomplishment, certainly at home, is going to be noted because you’re going to see numbers change.”
It’s a fitting spot for history in the making, for a player who’s trying his best to focus on what’s going on here and now.
“I try to keep that out of my mind, but now when I go out there and hit, I’m going to see that over there,” Cabrera said on Tuesday as he finished batting practice at Target Field. “I’m going to try to block it out of my mind. Bottom line, I have to play nine innings and try to do my job.”
For Cabrera, that job is to focus on one hit, one home run at a time, play to the situation. He just missed what would’ve been his 496th home run with a Statcast-projected 408-foot drive off the out-of-town scoreboard on Tuesday, but the double tied him with Barry Bonds for 37th on MLB’s all-time hits list. More importantly for Cabrera, it put another runner on in the ninth inning to set up Eric Haase’s game-tying grand slam.
Two innings later, Cabrera’s RBI single not only pushed him past Bonds, it pushed the go-ahead run across the plate to help end the Tigers’ eight-game losing streak at Target Field and four-game losing streak overall. That skid was hounding him more before the game than the milestones were.
For the past few years, Cabrera had to keep himself not only healthy, but focused through the losses of a club that was rebuilding around him. The faces got younger and younger. Haase, who’s now batting in front of Cabrera or behind him on most nights, grew up in Detroit idolizing him.
“When Jonathan Schoop got his 900th hit the other day,” Hinch said, “it was like, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. You’re only 2,000 behind Miggy. Keep working, kid.’”
This year, the Tigers are better, and it’s helping Cabrera push the constant reminders of the milestones to the side. The pressure he feels, he said, comes from within.
“It’s a good position. I think every player wants to be in that position,” Cabrera said. “It’s about mental, like the pressure I put on myself. Like every at-bat, I want to get a hit. I want to hit a home run. I want to make something happen. It’s like mental pressure.”
Cabrera admittedly has put pressure on himself to hit a home run, which is why he allowed himself a rare celebration as he rounded second base on his 495th career homer on Monday. But he’s more focused on whatever hit the situation calls for.
That gets frustrating sometimes. The beautiful swing that powered Cabrera to so many hits and homers comes and goes. He can’t get it to stick, though he said it’s getting better.
“Too much inconsistency the last few years,” Cabrera said. “That’s why I’m hitting so low right now. You don’t see too many home runs because of that. My swing isn’t consistent enough to do that right now. I’ve been working. I’ve been working with my swing and trying to be more consistent.”
A good part of that challenge has been his health, from the chronic changes to his knees to the back issues that come with being a 38-year-old hitter with 2,536 games on his record, plus 55 postseason contests. Put them together, and he has over 11,000 plate appearances.
“My body’s good. My knee’s like messed up, man,” Cabrera said with a laugh. “That’s the only thing. But there’s nothing I can do. I go out there and play. No excuse. I’m going to be up there and battle. I’m going to be that guy with good at-bats. Doesn’t matter what happens. That’s what I think. I go up there and get good at-bats and try to swing at a good pitch.”
A few more good swings and he’ll have 500 homers. Just in case he forgets how many, he can now look out to left field and find it. Is he excited?
“When I hit it, yes. Right now, no,” he said. “Right now, I want to keep battling and try to do my job.”
“It’ll be fun for our fans and fun for our organization,” the skipper said. “And ultimately, even if Miggy doesn’t admit it, he’s gotta think it’s pretty cool to show up to work every day and see the accomplishments right there in the stadium.”