Detroit — J.D. Martinez was an eye-witness to 92 of Miguel Cabrera’s home runs when he was playing for the Tigers from 2014-2017. Before he came out for batting practice Tuesday, his first trip back to Comerica Park since 2019, he wanted to know where Miggy stood on his quest for 500 homers.
His line of sight was directed to the large green and white counter atop the brick wall behind the bullpens in left field.
“Oh, crap!” he said.
Martinez got to witness another one Tuesday night, as the Tigers beat his Red Sox 4-2 in the first of a three-game set.
Cabrera lined a 95-mph fastball from Red Sox starter Garrett Richards leading off the second inning over the wall in right field. It was No. 498, just two away from becoming the 28th member of the 500-homer club.
It was Cabrera’s 133rd opposite field home run, the most in the Majors since 2003.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Martinez, who had two hits and drove in a run. “You hope he can stay healthy as long as he can to hit these milestones. I think he’s earned that.”
Martinez paused and chose his words carefully.
“There’s something to be said about guys who push their body when they’re hurt for the team to win and then pay the toll on the back end,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s what’s happened with him exactly, but I think he grinded it out during those years. I think a lot of those little aches, those injuries that he had kind of caught up.”
Martinez watched Cabrera play with a broken foot for the final month of the 2014 season as the Tigers were winning their fourth straight Central Division title.
“When I was here, I was always scared,” Martinez said. “I couldn’t ever take a day off. Miggy’s going out there with a broken foot. How am I supposed to take a day off? Are you kidding me? I remember when we were in Minnesota and Nick (Castellanos) fouled a ball off his foot and the next day he didn’t play.
“Miggy was pissed. And Nick’s like, ‘I don’t get it.’ I’m like, ‘The guy’s out there playing with a broken foot, bro. He’s got freaking bone spurs everywhere. You foul a ball off your foot and you can’t play? It better be broken.’”
Martinez hopes the fans appreciate, as he approaches both 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, the sacrifice Cabrera made playing hurt so often during his prime years.
“This guy grinded out a lot of years in his prime when he probably shouldn’t have been playing just because the team had to win,” Martinez said. “That’s part of it. He can’t move now but he gave you his all then.
“I feel for him because I understand it. You just hope that the fan base understands it too.”
Judging by the chants and cheers and the increased energy of the 15,724 fans inside the park Tuesday every time Cabrera stepped into the box — they do.
“The fans here have been incredible,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That first night we talked about the fans and the excitement and the buzz that was in the park and we’re continuing to feel that for every home game.
“Miggy’s chase is contributing to that. When he comes to bat, they’re on their feet looking for those numbers to change and Miggy is delivering with real quality at-bats.”
Cabrera moved the hits counter twice Tuesday night. His home run and single pushed him to 2.944 and past Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson, a fellow Triple Crown winner, into 36th place.
“Watching Miggy this year has been unbelievable,” said Michael Fulmer, who struck out three Red Sox hitters in the seventh. “I know he’s chasing milestones and he knows it, but he’s not acting that way. He’s going out there to help the team win.
“He’s been red hot and we love to see it.”
Martinez’s first hit, a two-out, broken-bat dunker to right field, plated the Red Sox’s first run in the first inning. His second single, also a broken-bat dunker to right, put Tigers starter Wily Peralta on the ropes in the third inning – runners at the corners with one out.
But shortstop Harold Castro rescued the inning. On a screamer hit by Alex Verdugo (105 mph off the bat), Castro made a do-or-die backhanded swipe as he was falling backwards. He snared the drive, stepped on second and threw to first to complete the double-play.
“We had a lot of good things happen tonight,” Hinch said. “That’s a really good ballclub across the way there, so to have a close win and see so many guys contribute — it’s a good win.”
Castro’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning tied the game at 2-2. Singles by Robbie Grossman and Cabrera, plus a nine-pitch walk by Jeimer Candelario, set the table.
The Tigers used their speed game to break the tie in the fifth. Derek Hill led off with a walk and scored from first on a double to the gap in right center by Akil Baddoo.
“I actually told (Hill), ‘If it was anybody else they’d be at third base,'” Baddoo said. “I told him I appreciated him scoring on that play and giving me the RBI. He just said, ‘You know I got you.'”
In the seventh against flame-throwing reliever Yacksel Rios, Jonathan Schoop doubled with two outs and Grossman lined a single up the middle to give the Tigers a two-run cushion.
The Tigers bullpen made that lead hold up.
► Right-hander Kyle Funkhouser was summoned after Peralta walked two with two outs in the fifth. He struck out Verdugo to end the inning.
► Right-hander Joe Jimenez pitched a scoreless sixth.
► Fulmer gave up a leadoff single to Jarren Duran in the seventh, then struck out Rafael Devers (96-mph four-seamer on the inner half), Xander Bogaerts (95-mph four-seamer on the outer edge) and Martinez (slider off the plate).
► Right-hander Jose Cisnero got three ground-ball outs in the eighth.
► Lefty Gregory Soto, firing 100- and 101-mph two-seamers, closed it out for his 12th
Martinez is rooting for Cabrera to get No. 500. He would appreciate it, though, if he waited until the Red Sox left town.
“You hope we’re winning by like 15,” he said. “We’re winning by 15, alright, you can have it.”