Pittsburgh — Earlier in the day Wednesday, Tigers players were in the clubhouse watching Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech. Robbie Grossman looked over at Miguel Cabrera.
“You got your Hall of Fame speech ready?” Grossman said, retelling the story. “I don’t take any day for granted getting to play with him.”
Cabrera and Grossman took it upon themselves to leave Pittsburgh with at least something positive, after being hit with two positive COVID-19 tests (Joe Jimenez and George Lombard) and two straight losses to a Pirates team that is in full rebuild and fighting to avoid triple-digit losses.
“That would’ve been a long flight back and a long off day if we didn’t come out on top today,” Grossman said.
Cabrera and Grossman each banged out four hits and Grossman blasted his 22nd home run sparking the Tigers’ 5-1 win over the Pirates in the finale of the three-game set at nearly-empty PNC Park.
“Miggy never ceases to amaze the guys on this team,” Grossman said. “He amazes me every single day and guys on the other team talk about how great he is. It’s an honor to play with a guy who is that well-regarded.”
Cabrera doubled in a run with two outs in the first inning, singled in another with two outs in the third and ripped a one-out single to score a third run in the fifth. They were all well-struck — with exit velocities off the bat of 103.6 mph, 103.9 mph and 108.2 mph.
“Miggy is as smart a hitter as you’re going to get,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He goes up there and doesn’t try to do too much. He ambushes a double to right field. He takes a single. He sits breaking ball and gets a breaking ball and hits a single up the middle.
“It was a textbook day of being prepared to hit and then going out and executing. He’s fun to watch.”
Cabrera’s seventh-inning single brought his hit total to 2,971 and marked a feat he’d never done before. Going back to Tuesday, Cabrera has hit safely in seven straight at-bats. It’s the longest consecutive-hit streak of his brilliant career.
“Hat’s off to him,” Pirates starter Mitch Keller said. “I don’t think we got him out once this whole series (twice, once on a sacrifice fly). He’s an incredible hitter and he will be in the Hall of Fame one day.”
More milestones are on the horizon. Cabrera is six doubles away from 600 for his career. Should he reach 600 doubles and 3,000 hits, he will become the third player in Major League history to produce at least 3,000 hits, 500 homers and 600 doubles.
The other two — Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols.
Here’s another one: It was the 80th time Cabrera has produced at least three hits and three RBIs in a game. Since 1920 (when RBI became an official statistic), only four other players have more. You might recognize the names — Lou Gehrig (97), Al Simmons (92), Babe Ruth (87) and Aaron (81).
Cabrera has 26 four-hit, three-RBI games, tied with Simmons for second behind Gehrig (30).
“It’s not every day you get to play with a Hall-of-Famer,” said Grossman, who singled in his first three at-bats, scoring twice. “He makes it look so easy. Even his routine in the cage, I watch it every day and try to see what he does.
“He puts on a clinic.”
On the downside for the Tigers, it was an early and painful exit for rookie right-hander Matt Manning.
With two outs and a man on third in the bottom of the third inning, Pirates Colin Moran lined one up the middle. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 101.5 mph and caromed off Manning’s left knee. As Manning lay on the ground in obvious pain, catcher Dustin Garneau jumped on the rebound and fired a seed to first base to end the inning — a 1-2-3 putout.
Manning walked off on his own power, but he was clearly hurting and the Tigers quickly got right-hander Drew Hutchison loose. The Tigers’ initial diagnosis was left knee contusion.
“X-rays were negative,” Hinch said. “He’s day to day with a contusion. He really got smoked on the inside of his knee. We have a day off (Thursday) and then a day off Monday, so we can push his next start back. We’ll see how he feels.”
Manning gave up a run and four hits with four strikeouts in his three innings. He was mixing his pitches well, even bringing the curveball back into the mix. The run came in the second inning, and it will serve as a teaching moment for him going forward.
Ben Gamel was on third base with two outs. Manning got two quick strikes on the No. 8 hitter Kevin Newman. But with the pitcher due up next, he left a flat slider out over the plate and Newman slapped it into left field to score the run.
Manning didn’t have to throw another pitch over the plate. He’d have gotten Newman to chase, or he’d have walked him and faced the pitcher, Mitch Keller, who he ended up striking out on four pitches.
The Tigers bullpen picked up the slack. Hutchison (two innings), Derek Holland (one), Jose Urena (one), Michael Fulmer (one) and Gregory Soto (one) kept the Pirates off the board from the fourth inning on.
“We needed everybody to do their part to get us out of here with a win and those guys did that,” HInch said. “Great night for Miggy, great night for Robbie, good win for us.”