Niyo: AJ Hinch makes right call; now, Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera can make history at home

Detroit News

They’ll go ahead and tempt fate, after all.

And that’s not just good business sense prevailing. It’s also an important gesture of goodwill to the Tigers’ fans, increasing the odds they’ll get a chance to see — and celebrate — a milestone moment in person.

Miguel Cabrera’s chase for his 500th career home run took another triumphant step Wednesday night in Baltimore, as the Tigers’ marquee name slugged No. 499 at Camden Yards.

But after initially insisting he wouldn’t artificially enhance the drama by sitting Cabrera for Thursday’s getaway game, with the Tigers set to open a six-game homestand Friday against Cleveland, manager AJ Hinch thought better of that decision overnight.

Then he made the right call, one that no doubt will be well-received — by all the stakeholders here — when the team returns home to Detroit. Because this isn’t just Miggy’s moment everybody’s waiting to cheer, especially after what the fans here have endured the last several years.

That doesn’t mean it was an easy call, however. As Hinch admitted Thursday, “You know, I can get caught up in wanting it to happen as soon as possible, too.”

And in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday night’s win over the Orioles, the Tigers’ manager was rather emphatic that Cabrera would be in the lineup again Thursday afternoon. Even though that hasn’t been the normal practice for the 38-year-old veteran, especially coming off a night game where he’d played in the field at first base.

As Hinch explained it in his postgame video conference, “I’ve talked to him, and we’re not going to test baseball fate. We really want him to hit it whenever he’s supposed to hit it. Maybe it’s tomorrow, maybe it’s not.”

But then the manager left the Zoom room, headed back into the visitors’ clubhouse and realized maybe that wasn’t the right way to go about this. Especially after he saw Cabrera in the cold tub getting his postgame treatment at nearly midnight after a second straight rain-delayed game played in hot, humid conditions. And with the forecast calling for a heat index pushing 110 degrees for Thursday’s 4 p.m. first pitch.

“So I went and took a shower and got back to the hotel and still didn’t feel good about it,” Hinch said Thursday afternoon, a few hours before the series finale against the Orioles. “I told myself I was gonna sleep on it.”

When he woke up, he knew what he needed to do. He texted Cabrera and told him he’d changed his mind and wasn’t going to put him in the starting lineup at designated hitter. Then he texted general manager Al Avila, who was on the trip with the team in Baltimore, as well as Tigers owner Chris Ilitch, with whom Hinch said he had a “nice exchange.”

I’d imagine so, since the prospect of Cabrera returning home with 499 career home runs — poised to make history at Comerica Park this weekend — surely will boost ticket sales for the club. The Tigers have announced crowds in excess of 25,000 only twice this season, and the last time was a Saturday night a couple of weeks ago, two days after Cabrera’s two-homer night moved him within striking distance of No. 500. So yes, there’s some value in waiting here, obviously.

“Remarkably, and I really do appreciate Chris and Al and the business people … nobody said a word to me about it,” Hinch said. “And to their credit, they were very open to whatever was best for Miggy and best for our team. In a time where it would’ve been easy to step in and try and lean on me and the decision-making process, I love the fact that they stayed out of it and allowed it to kind of naturally evolve.”

But Hinch gets it. He gets all of it. That has been obvious from the moment he took this job last October. And this is but one more example, showing that he understands both what the milestone means to Cabrera, the 11-time All-Star and two-time MVP who’ll become just the 28th player in MLB history to hit 500 homers, and what it can do for the franchise and the fans, who’ve all been through a lot together.

From the highs of those pennant years that left everyone wanting more, to the lows of this rebuilding era and four straight losing seasons where the Tigers winning percentage (.363) wouldn’t even have won the American League batting title last summer. If the ball club truly is turning a corner this season, it only seems fair to round the bases together.

“Obviously, there’s a component of hitting 500,” Hinch said. “I have no idea if it can happen over the homestand, but our fans and everybody back in Detroit, I want them to be a part of it. …

“Combine all that, and when you just think about what’s best for Miggy — day game after a night game — and then under the context of this fun experience we’re all having, I’m hoping he proves us right to hit it at home in front of our fans and hit it in a win.”

Whether he does or doesn’t this weekend, or when the Angels come to town early next week — Shohei Ohtani’s the likely starter Tuesday, by the way — this was the right call. For all the right reasons.

When Cabrera was asked recently what it would mean to hit No. 500 at home, he answered quickly.

“A lot,” he said. “Especially in this ballpark. It’s such a big ballpark to hit home runs. And 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.”

Now those fans in Detroit are in for a treat, perhaps. A little home cooking, if you will. And a moment everyone can savor together.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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