Detroit — The magic number is down to one.
Miguel Cabrera singled in his first three at-bats Wednesday during the Tigers’ 5-3 loss to the Yankees — Nos. 2,997, 2,998 and 2,999 of his illustrious career.
It was the loss, though, that was most on his mind afterward.
“I didn’t hit the ball hard and got three hits today,” Cabrera shrugged. “Baseball is really hard. I was really lucky today. But we lost.”
Still, when he came to bat in the eighth inning with the Tigers down by two, the crowd — which was announced at 17,268 but seemed to swell considerably after Cabrera got the three hits — stood, cell phone cameras recording, in anticipation of the magic moment.
Instead, Yankees reliever Clay Holmes struck him out with a 93 mph sinker.
“I know this is a special moment,” Cabrera said. “But at the same time, I’ve got to do my job and get on base in that situation. I was leadoff in that inning and I struck out.”
Cabrera’s three hits came in a variety pack. The first was an infield single against Yankees starter Luis Severino. Exit velocity — 59.2 mph.
The second, also against Severino, was a vintage Cabrera at-bat. He fell behind in the count, battled and worked the count full and then lined a single back up the middle. Exit velocity — 89.5 mph.
The third, off reliever Chad Green, was a broken-bat liner through the hole between third and short. Exit velocity — 68.3.
“It was a good night for Miguel,” manager AJ Hinch said. “There’s a lot of buzz around the number of hits. That last at-bat when he’s right on the line, 2,999, that was a cool atmosphere. We’re all rooting for him. It’ll be a big moment when it comes.”
Cabrera will come to the ballpark on Thursday needing one more hit to become the 33rd member of the 3,000-hit club and the seventh player ever to achieve 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
“Better get there early,” Hinch said. “He might hit it in the first inning.”
His first two hits Wednesday came in the two rallies the Tigers mustered against Severino in his five innings of work, rallies that produced just one run. That’s been a recurring theme in this series.
The Tigers stranded 10 runners in the loss Tuesday and eight more Wednesday. They are a combined 3 for 17 with runners in scoring position.
“We’re playing in tough weather,” Cabrera said. “We’re playing in Detroit, it’s going to be cold. It’s tough to play like that — rain, cold. We went to Kansas City and it was the same thing. Hopefully the weather lets up for us tomorrow.”
Cabrera’s infield hit in the second came on the heels of a lead-off double by Jeimer Candelario. But Cabrera got a little overzealous on the bases. Victor Reyes singled home Candelario and Cabrera tried to go first to third.
Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton threw a seed to third and got the sliding Cabrera by a step. Reyes was then caught stealing at second and the rally fizzled.
The Tigers loaded the bases against Severino with one out on the fourth — singles by Cabrera and Reyes and a walk to Spencer Torkelson. Harold Castro, in a gritty nine-pitch at-bat, lined out
The Yankees built a 3-1 lead against Tigers lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, the third coming on a long, solo home run to right field by Anthony Rizzo.
It was Rodriguez’s best outing as a Tiger to date. He was 59 pitches and laboring after three innings, but he locked in and went a season-high six innings, throwing 98 pitches.
“To be able to go six innings after that third inning, as many pitches as I had, I feel like that’s a positive I can take out of this game,” said Rodriguez, who allowed three runs over six innings with five strikeouts.
The Tigers tied it in the sixth off Green. Candelario and Cabrera singled and with two outs, Castro laced a two-run double to the gap in left-center, scoring Cabrera from first.
“I was encouraged by our at-bats,” Hinch said. “The runs will follow the good at-bats.”
The Tigers never got over the hump, though. The Yankees scored an unearned run against reliever Drew Hutchison in the top of the seventh and added another off reliever Joe Jimenez in the eighth.
Except for enduring the loss, Cabrera seemed to be enjoying the at-bat by at-bat climb toward 3,000 hits.
“He’s in a good place,” Hinch said. “He’s been in a good place. I think he’s handled all of this, even dating back to the 500-homer chase last year, with a ton of class and dignity and humanity and passion and appreciation — you name the word. We love that.
“Miggy is authentic. Every day he shows up, his is what we get. He’s as authentic as they come.”