Miguel Cabrera pointed to the sky as he exited the batter’s box.
He pumped his fist as he jogged down the first-base line.
He tossed his arms in the air upon reaching the bag safely.
Cabrera, one of the best hitters in baseball history, recorded his 3,000th career hit in the first inning Saturday against Colorado Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela, attacking a third-pitch fastball for a sharp single to right field.
“I was really nervous,” Cabrera said. “I wanted to get my 3,000th hit here in Detroit because of what happened last year with 500 (home runs) on the road. This one was really special for me because I wanted to do it here for my fans in my hometown here in Detroit.”
The masses — all 37,566 fans at Comerica Park — celebrated the historic achievement. Cabrera received hugs from teammates, coaches, family members and Rockies players. The crowd chanted his nickname — “Mig-gy! Mig-gy!” — and gave the 20-year MLB veteran a standing ovation.
Moments later, Detroit Tigers rookie first baseman Spencer Torkelson crushed a three-run, opposite-field home run. The Tigers also benefitted from six scoreless innings from left-hander Tarik Skubal, who mixed his secondary pitches better than ever in his 42nd career game.
But Cabrera’s history set the tone, and the Tigers ran away with a 13-0 win over the Rockies in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader, scoring four runs in the first inning, one in the fourth, four in the sixth and fourth in the seventh.
Game 2 of the doubleheader is scheduled to begin at 6:40 p.m.
“We don’t know if we’re going to see another one in our baseball lifetime or our whole lifetime,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. “We’re going to look back at this and rank it at or near the top of our experience — having been a part of this small juncture of his Hall of Fame career. The next thing will be when he gets inducted, years from now. … I know none of us in the building will forget it.”
The 39-year-old is the 33rd player in MLB history with 3,000 hits, and he’s the seventh player with at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. He’s one double away from joining Aaron and Pujols as the only members of that club with 600 doubles.
Cabrera finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
“It’s something you remember for the rest of your life,” Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman said. “It’s incredible if you actually dig into the numbers — how long he’s played, how many hits and everything to get to this point. I don’t have the words, but I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
The Tigers removed Cabrera from Game 1 for pinch-runner Eric Haase in the sixth inning, after Cabrera hit a two-out, two-run single up the middle off Rockies left-handed reliever Ty Blach for an 8-0 lead.
The sixth-inning single pushed Cabrera past Roberto Clemente, the first Latino player inducted into the Hall of Fame, on the all-time hits list, giving him sole possession of 32nd place in MLB history with 3,001 hits.
Next on the list is former Tiger and Hall of Famer Al Kaline with 3,007 hits.
“He’s one of my heroes,” Cabrera said of Kaline, who played 22 years for the Tigers and died in April 2020. “He would always say good things about me and how I can get better. It’s really sad he’s not able to see it, because he always talked about this moment. To be able to do it, hopefully, somewhere, he’s happy and smiling.”
Hits start early
Grossman opened the first with a leadoff single to right field. Austin Meadows grounded into a forceout, bringing Cabrera to the plate with one out and a runner on first base.
Cabrera’s single put runners on the corners.
“The momentum built, and the emotions built,” Hinch said. “Every at-bat was just like a Game 7 of the World Series at-bat. Everybody’s quiet, everybody’s in their seats. Concessions were probably pretty light at that point. Everybody’s in the dugout.
“And Miggy was super-nervous. For a veteran, at 39 years old, 20 years (in MLB), it’s fun to watch him be nervous. I think it’s awesome. I think the kid in him is realizing what it means.”
After a break in the action to commemorate Cabrera, the Rockies had a chance to escape the inning, as Jeimer Candelario struck out swinging, but the Tigers delivered with two outs.
Jonathan Schoop snapped an 0-for-26 streak with a single to score Meadows for a 1-0 lead. Torkelson then demolished a first-pitch 95 mph fastball from Senzatela, sending the ball 354 feet and over the right-field wall.
Torkelson’s third big-league home run put the Tigers ahead, 4-0.
“I always say, ‘If we’re winning, I know the results will be good,'” Cabrera said. “We’re going to produce. We’re going to play our game. We going to go out there and do whatever we can to win games. We did that today, so I’m really happy. We got to prepare for the next game.”
The Tigers tallied two more singles with two outs in the first, courtesy of Harold Castro and Tucker Barnhart, but those runners were stranded as Akil Baddoo popped out to third base.
Senzatela stuck around through five innings, but he gave up his fifth run in the fourth frame. Grossman, who went 3-for-4 with one RBI and one walk, singled on a line drive to center field to score Castro for a 5-0 advantage.
In total, the Tigers scored 13 runs on 20 hits, three walks and seven strikeouts. They received multi-hit performances from Grossman, Meadows, Cabrera, Schoop, Torkelson, Castro and Barnhart. All nine starters, plus Haase, recorded at least one hit.
Castro finished 4-for-5 with one double and three singles.
“The offense was great today, early and often,” Skubal said. “It made my job a lot easier to go out there and pitch, put up zeros for the team and put us in a position to win. But what (Cabrera has) done, I can’t put it into words. It’s unbelievable.”
The Tigers’ bullpen held the Rockies scoreless in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Right-hander Wily Peralta handled the seventh, giving way to righty Angel De Jesus for his MLB debut in the eighth.
De Jesus retired his first three batters in order, punching out Connor Joe looking with a 94.7 mph sinker for his first MLB strikeout. The 25-year-old opened the season with Triple-A Toledo.
His time in the ninth was less smooth, as he allowed the first two batters to reach before striking out former Tiger C.J. Cron and Elias Díaz for the first two outs of the inning. De Jesus then walked Ryan McMahon on seven pitches to load the bases. Brendan Rodgers popped out on the first pitch of his at-bat to end the game.
The most important moment of Skubal’s outing came in the sixth inning.
The 25-year-old — after cruising through the first five innings — was stuck in a jam with the bases loaded and one out. Pitching coach Chris Fetter visited Skubal on the mound before Rockies star Kris Bryant, who signed a seven-year, $182 million contract this past offseason, stepped to the plate for the high-leverage situation.
A grand slam would have cut Colorado’s 5-0 deficit to one run.
“Good game and good game to win,” Skubal said, “but what Miggy accomplished today, can’t really put it into words how incredible his career has been. To have that guy in your clubhouse and be teammates with him, it’s an honor.”
Skubal threw five pitches to Bryant, striking him out swinging with a 95.2 mph four-seam fastball. His next assignment, Cron, leads the Rockies with six home runs, but Skubal overwhelmed him. Cron flied out to Torkelson in foul territory for the third out.
In his third start this season, Skubal completed six scoreless innings and tossed 60 of 91 pitches for strikes. He allowed five hits, without conceding a walk, and registered six strikeouts.
“Tuck called a great game back there today,” Skubal said. “Whatever he put down, I was just throwing. I give all the credit to him. I just did my best job at executing pitches and getting soft contact. And it worked out.”
Skubal used 32 four-seam fastballs (35%), 21 sliders (23%), 20 sinkers (22%), 12 changeups (13%) and six curveballs (7%). He combined for 13 swings and misses and 16 called strikes.
The lefty produced his 13 whiffs with seven four-seamers, one slider, one sinker and four changeups. He earned his 16 called strikes with an even mix of his offerings: four four-seamers, four sliders, four sinkers, three changeups and one curve.
Riding Skubal’s energy, the Tigers tacked on four more runs in the sixth inning against Blach, the Rockies’ first of three relievers. Most of the damage, once again, came with two outs.
A one-out double from Castro, despite Barnhart’s ensuing strikeout, set the table for his teammates with two down: Baddoo (RBI single), Grossman (single), Meadows (walk), Cabrera (two-RBI single) and Candelario (RBI single).
The single from Candelario made it 9-0.
The Rockies replaced Blach with lefty reliever Lucas Gilbreath. He got Schoop to ground out to third base on the first pitch he threw, ending the inning.
But the Tigers had their way with Gilbreath in the seventh, as Torkelson (single), Castro (single) and Grossman (walk) reached safely with two outs. Meadows then torched him for a second-pitch single, two RBIs and an 11-0 lead.
Haase, the pinch-runner for Cabrera, singled in his first at-bat to load the bases, and Candelario drew a four-pitch walk to push home the Tigers’ 12th run. Schoop continued by slapping a single, his team’s 20th hit, to right field for a 13-0 edge.
That’s when the Rockies pulled Gilbreath. Righty Jhoulys Chacín entered with the bases loaded and struck out Torkelson on three pitches. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick, in his 13th MLB game, finished 2-for-5 with three RBIs and two strikeouts.