‘This is history we’re watching’: Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera starting to relish chase for 500 HRs

Detroit News

Detroit — Maybe it was the two home runs he hit Thursday night. Maybe it’s the sudden presence of the Cabrera Countdown Counter at the base of the giant scoreboard in left field.

Whatever the reason, Miguel Cabrera’s quest for 500 home runs suddenly seemed to capture everyone’s imagination this past week at Comerica Park. The fans were pumped, giving Cabrera warm and rousing applause every time he stepped into the box. Cell phone cameras were raised to capture every swing. Every ball he hit into the air was cheered, pop-up or fly ball, with full-stadium groans for the ones caught on the track or at the wall.

This is getting pretty darn fun.

“I don’t know what else to say about Miggy,” outfielder Robbie Grossman said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer. He’s probably going to go down as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. I’m just lucky I get to be around him and be in the same clubhouse as him. I can tell my kids one day that I got to play with him.

“At this point, I don’t think anything he does surprises me.”

Cabrera sits at 497 home runs. Fans were chanting “498, 498” during his at-bats Sunday. And with the Red Sox coming into Comerica Park for three games and throwing a pair of left-handed pitchers, the 500-homer club better start preparing its welcome.

“We have to be careful how much we talk about it because Miggy might bite our head off,” manager AJ Hinch joked over the weekend. “He just wants to play. But our players love it. Changing those numbers on the board is pretty cool. Fans are way into it as we should be.

“This is history we’re watching right before our eyes.”

Cabrera has had mixed feelings about this whole chase. He admitted he felt pressure, especially at the start of the year. Not so much about attaining milestones, but about meeting the superhero-sized expectations.

On Friday, he talked about the empathy he had for gymnast Simone Biles and her battles with anxiety at the Olympic Games.

“It’s really tough,” Cabrera said. “I understand what she’s going through, because that mental part is a big part of the game. You try to do something to prove who you are or to prove what you’ve been doing your whole career. And you lose your focus. You lose something because you don’t play like that. You go out there and do it. You don’t try to do it. You go out there and play hard and try to make something happen.

“It’s something that’s bothering me the last two or three years. I don’t want to make an excuse. I need to do a better job in the field and do a better job when I hit, and that’s it. That’s the bottom line. Forget about the milestones and forget about the numbers and try play better.”

But, something’s changed. He’s starting to warm up to this chase. He feels the energy in the park. He feels the energy from his teammates. His knees are still killing him but he’s swinging the bat better, hitting over .300 since June. The team is playing better.

“We’re all into it and we’re watching it and we’re winning more games,” Hinch said. “And Miggy wants to win. He’s allowing all of us to make it a big deal for him. He doesn’t want all the attention, but I think we’re doing it subtly enough…he’s enjoying it.”

What Cabrera is doing, whether on purpose or not, is trying to deflect whatever light shines on him during this chase onto his young teammates. That seems to be what he’s enjoying the most.

He was asked if he’d encourage fans to come down to see this chase.

“Not only for me, for the team, for the young guys,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of really young guys coming up, like (Casey) Mize, like (Tarik) Skubal, like (Derek) Hill, like (Akil) Baddoo. I mean, with these guys we’re putting a very good team together.

“These guys are going to be around in this city for a long time. These guys are going to be special. Start following and supporting these guys because these guys are going to be really good.”

When the Tigers were finishing up the series in Minnesota earlier in the week, Cabrera wasn’t sure what he thought about having the countdown counter staring him in the face every time he came to bat. But it’s had at least one positive unintended consequence — it’s diverted the fan narrative off his salary and number of years left on his contract.

“I think they found out they don’t know what’s going on in the game,” he said, laughing. “When they see that number, now they know what’s going on with me. Because I hear so much crap talked about me. I don’t even care about that.

“But when I see people realize what I’m doing right now, it makes me happy they know what’s going on.”

He would love nothing more than to celebrate his 500th home run with them, preferably this week.

“A lot,” he said. “Especially in this ballpark. If I hit it here, in front of my fans from this city, in front of my family, because I always say Detroit is my second family. Good times, bad times, they always support me and treat me good.”

He needs 58 hits over the next 54 games to reach 3,000 hits. That’s probably going to be a story for 2022. But 500 home runs (three), 1,500 runs (eight), 600 doubles (10) and 1,800 RBIs (23) are within reach over these next two months

“Just an unbelievable player,” Grossman said. “It’s crazy the names that he’s passing every day. It’s something that doesn’t even seem real.”

On deck: Red Sox

Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit

First pitch: Tuesday-Wednesday — 7:10 p.m.; Thursday — 1:10 p.m.

TV/radio: All three games on BSD/97.1 FM

Probables: Tuesday — RHP Garrett Richards (6-6, 5.15) vs. RHP Wily Peralta (3-2, 3.64); Wednesday — LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (7-6, 5.60) vs. RHP Casey Mize (6-5, 3.41); Thursday — LHP Martin Perez (7-7, 4.56) vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (6-10, 4.53).

Scouting report

Richards, Red Sox: Over his last nine starts, he’s posted an ERA over seven with an opponent slash-line of .346/.405/.616 and an OPS of 1.021. And despite that carnage, the Red Sox are 6-3 in those starts. Go figure. Opponents are hitting over .300 and slugging over .500 on his two most-used pitches — four-seam (94) and slider.

Peralta, Tigers: His command of his best pitch, the split-change, has deserted him in his last two starts. He’s still only allowed two hits with it, but he hasn’t been able to throw it for strikes. He’s allowed 11 runs, four home runs in nine innings over his last two. Cause and effect.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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