How Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is dealing with pressure in quest to 500 home runs

Detroit Free Press

Miguel Cabrera feels the pressure.

He stood outside the Detroit Tigers‘ dugout Friday at Comerica Park, discussing the milestones — 500 home runs and 3,000 hits — that he knows are within reach. There’s a giant green sign in left field named “Miggy Milestones” to track his results. The sign is visible from all angles of the ballpark, including from the batter’s box.

When the 38-year-old belted two home runs Thursday night in a 6-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, the counter adjusted to 497. He only needs three homers to reach the prized No. 500, and with 2,942 career hits, he is 58 away from No. 3,000.

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“It’s really tough,” Cabrera said. “I know something happened in the Olympics, about Simone (Biles). 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’re 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.

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

Based on the numbers, Cabrera seems to be getting comfortable again.

He is hitting .250 with 10 home runs, 48 RBIs, 25 walks and 81 strikeouts in 83 games this season, starting 32 games at first base and 50 at designated hitter. The 19-year MLB veteran is 51-for-168 (.304) with eight doubles, six home runs and 31 RBIs over 46 games since June 1.

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But in his first 37 games this season, from Opening Day on April 1 through May 31,he hit .184 (25-for-136) with one double, four home runs, 17 RBIs, 14 walks and 37 strikeouts. Getting paid $30 million this season — and $32 million each of the next two — some fans weren’t pleased.

“I hear so much (expletive)-talking about me,” Cabrera said. “I don’t even care about that. When I see people realize what I’m doing right now, that makes me happy. They know what’s going on right now.”

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Cabrera responded to the slow start with a .329 batting average in June and a .280 average in July.

“Miggy just has to be himself, contribute and be a good offensive player,” manager AJ Hinch said. “The game is not always going to give you heroic moments where you need to hit a double, triple or homer — maybe no triples for Miggy. But it’s key for him to just have good at-bats and have a presence in our lineup.”

Detroit is 42-33 since May 8 and 11-6 since the All-Star break, with help from Cabrera’s improvement. Aside from winning, his teammates are enjoying the milestone chases. He recently passed Barry Bonds (2,935) to move into 36th place on the all-time hits list.

On May 7, Cabrera jumped Babe Ruth (2,873) on the hits leaderboard.

“Somebody told me I passed Babe Ruth’s cousin,” Cabrera said, laughing. “They started making jokes about that. That’s cool because they feel proud, too. I feel proud to play next to these guys. I see these guys get so much better every day, and I’m excited for what we can do this year and next year.”

Outfielder Robbie Grossman, a nine-year veteran, explained his excitement.

“He’s a future Hall of Famer,” Grossman said. “He’s going to go down as probably 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 I got to play with him. At this point, I don’t think anything that he does surprises me. He is just an unbelievable player, and it’s just crazy to see the names he is passing. It’s something that doesn’t even seem real.”

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Cabrera wants fans to show up at Comerica Park, but not solely for his milestones. He mentioned rookies Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Derek Hill and Akil Baddoo as players the people from Detroit need to become familiar with as the organization’s building process continues in search of making the playoffs soon.

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

Still, there will always be extra pressure on Cabrera to succeed.

Pressure is something not even the Triple Crown, pair of MVP awards, 2003 World Series, four batting titles and 11 All-Star appearances can wipe away. Cabrera is doing his best not to get overwhelmed by the big numbers, even with a sign in left field reminding him of what’s expected, but he remains eager to give the fans what they’re hoping for.

He wants to change the sign to No. 500 during a game at Comerica Park.

“Detroit is my second family,” Cabrera said. “Good times, bad times, they always support me and treat me good.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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