TORONTO — Finally, the wait is over.
Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, who had been under immense pressure since hitting his 499th career home run in Baltimore on Aug. 11, jogged around the bases Sunday at Rogers Centre after cranking a change-up from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Steven Matz over the wall in right-center field.
“Let’s go,” Cabrera screamed, pounding his chest upon crossing home plate. He hugged Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop, then received more hugs and high-fives from his teammates and coaches on the field and in the dugout. The fans in Toronto cheered like Cabrera was one of their own, even demanding a curtain call.
The home run made Cabrera one of 28 players in MLB history to reach 500 homers, a historic milestone added to his near-certain first-ballot Hall of Fame resume. It was also the most stress-relieving long ball he has belted in his distinguished career.
The pressure of when — though not if — was building.
“Last week in Detroit was tough,” Cabrera said Sunday. “It was the first time in five or six years I’ve seen the crowd that excited and with that much energy. It was nice to see the energy back in Comerica Park. There was a lot going through my mind. I wanted to do it in Detroit. But it’s tough to hit home runs there. I just have to thank God I hit it here and got it over with. Now I can try to keep playing baseball.”
When Cabrera made contact with Matz’s change-up, he urged the baseball to sneak over the wall.
“C’mon, get up, get up,” Cabrera said.
It traveled 400 feet.
Cabrera nearly hit No. 500 at home during a six-game stand against Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels. He just missed over the weekend, with a foul ball and then a deep flyout to the back of the warning track, finishing without a home run in 24 plate appearances.
But in Toronto, there was no doubt about his sixth-inning swing.
“When he hit that ball, I knew something special was about to happen,” third baseman Jeimer Candelario said. “History was about to happen. For me, being a part of that is a blessing. It’s special for him, my teammates and for his family.”
“I thought he got it from the get-go,” manager AJ Hinch said. “You always kind of hold your breath until you see whether or not it’s going to clear the tall fence in the outfield. We all jumped up like this was the moment, and it turned out to be real for us.”
Bullpen catcher Tim Remes retrieved the ball, which landed near the visiting batting cage. The ball has been authenticated by MLB and given to Cabrera, who plans to put it somewhere special in his house. It represents a memory he will cherish forever.
Along with becoming the 28th member of the 500-homer club, Cabrera is the first from Venezuela, the country where he grew up playing baseball in a worn-down field behind his home, to accomplish the mark.
“We’ve seen him do some tremendous things this year,” Hinch said. “The names he’s passed on the (MLB) hit total. He’s the Venezuelan hit king. Now he’s hit 500, one of 28 players. I know our fans back home gave him a ton of support. Everybody relaxed a little bit when he hit the homer.”
And there should be more “Miggy Milestones” on the way.
Cabrera now has 2,955 hits, just 45 away from 3,000 hits. If he reaches that total, he would join Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez as one of seven players to accomplish both No. 500 and No. 3,000.
“He’s a hitting machine,” Candelario said. “The 3,000 will come sooner than later.”
Following the Tigers’ 5-3 win, Hinch held a team meeting in the clubhouse. Hinch said Cabrera addressed his teammates, but Cabrera wouldn’t share what he told them, saying after the game, “It’s our business. What I say to my teammates, it’s our business. It’s not public.”
But they must have enjoyed hearing from their leader and celebrating with him.
“He wants this for us as much as we wanted it for him,” Hinch said. “He saw the stress around that was unspoken. It’s a huge accomplishment for him and his country and what he’s meant to baseball in Detroit and what he’s meant to baseball in Miami, where he started his career, and obviously Team Venezuela. He’s represented his country with extreme success on the field.”
Cabrera offered up one final remark, after reaching one of baseball’s greatest milestones.
“I’ll always thank God for this moment,” he said.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.