Tigers’ ‘living legend’ Miguel Cabrera delivers 3,000th hit

Detroit News

Detroit — Commission the statue, clear space on the Comerica Park bricks and alert the Hall of Fame.

Miguel Cabrera has officially stamped his place among the immortals of this great game.

With his first-inning single Saturday off Colorado right-hander and fellow Venezuelan Antonio Senzatela, Cabrera now has achieved what only a handful of players have in the 119-year history of Major League Baseball. He becomes:

► The 33rd player to amass at least 3,000 hits.

► The seventh player to amass at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. He joins Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Eddie Murray.

► The third player to amass at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs while maintaining a .300 batting average or better. Only Aaron and Mays are in that club.

► The only player ever to amass at least 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and win a Triple Crown.

And, on top of that, with one more double, Cabrera will become the third player to amass at least 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 600 doubles, joining Aaron and Pujols.

“I’ve tried to remind our players that we’re playing with a living legend,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We’re going to look back at these numbers, so few people have been able to reach these milestones. We’re going to celebrate this moment with him.”

As he’s done throughout his career, Cabrera stayed on a 1-1 fastball and punched it to right field. He thrust his arm into the air and the celebration was on.

His teammates streamed out of the dugout and bullpen and mobbed him at first base. Rockies first baseman and former Tiger C.J. Cron was among the first to embrace him. Cabrera then made his way behind the plate to share a moment with his wife Rosangel, mother Gregoria Torres, daughter Brisel and son Christopherchildren.

Cabrera was clearly emotional when he got back to first base. So much so that Cron playfully checked his pulse. What a moment.

“When you are seeing names that he’s passed, names you’ve never seen on a scoreboard before, it’s pretty remarkable,” Hinch said. “There’s a point where you need to stand back and appreciate what we’re watching.”

Cabrera, as he did last year when he was chasing 500 home runs, has consistently avoided talking about the milestone, saying he didn’t want to take away from the team’s goals or put any extra pressure on himself.

But he couldn’t hold back Thursday morning before the Tigers took on the Yankees in the series finale.

“I think I’m going to cry,” he said. “This is a special moment. What is it, just 33 guys have done this? I’ve always dreamed about this moment. I always think about this moment. You always think about in your career, where are you going to be. I’m so thankful to be in this position and I want to enjoy every moment.”

He teared up, too, when he was told that only two other Tigers are in the 3,000-hit club — Ty Cobb and Al Kaline.

“Wow, that’s pretty special,” he said. “When you talk about Al Kaline, I miss him. That really means something.”

It meant something to Cabrera, too, that Reds slugger Joey Votto tweeted his respect on Tuesday.

“Miguel Cabrera, I used to low-key creep your at-bats in my hotel room EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, after our games. I knew I had to study the best to beat the best. Good luck with your final steps to 3000. You are a joy to watch.”

Cabrera said, “I was shocked what Votto said. That was like, really? Wow. Very cool.”

He poked three singles on Wednesday night to get to the brink. And he joked Thursday  morning that No. 3,000 was going to be a bunt.

“I told my son Christopher, I said, ‘I’m going to bunt,'” Cabrera said. “He said, ‘Dad, come on.'”

In his dreams, Cabrera said hit 3,000 would be like hit No. 1 — a walk-off home run.

Cabrera, 39, began this quest on June 20, 2003. In the 11th inning of his big-league debut, his first hit was a walk-off home run off Tampa Bay’s Al Levine. Talk about announcing your presence with authority.

Hit No. 1,000 came in his first season with the Tigers, on Sept. 7, 2008 — also a home run. He got hit No. 1,500 on July 15, 2011 and No. 2,000 on April 4, 2014 — another home run. On June 12, 2015, in the 2,000th game of his career, he notched his 2,400th hit. Nobody reached that milestone quicker.

In between the first hit and the 3,000th hit, Cabrera accumulated two MVP awards, the Triple Crown in 2012 and four batting titles in five years between 2011 and 2015.

“I don’t know how many players will make it that far now with the way the game is changing,” Tigers shortstop Javier Báez said. “Just the number of years guys are in the league now, it’s really hard. I don’t think that many more players are going to get there.”

As embedded as Cabrera is now, not only in the fabric of the Tigers franchise, but in the history of the game, his impact on his native Venezuela is unquantifiable.

“This is something very special for my country,” said Tigers’ lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, fellow Venezuelan. “I know how big he is in Venezuela, so it is just special to be part of this. I really appreciate I’m here when he got his 3,000th hit.

“I feel like 90% of the country (Venezuela) is going to be watching this game. That’s how big it is in Venezuela.”

For a country economically and politically ravaged as Venezuela is, Cabrera’s feats provide more than a diversion. They are a sense of pride and hope.

“It’s amazing to see that,” said Royals catcher and fellow Venezuelan Salvador Perez. “It’s going to be another 20 years before we see another guy like him. Everyone wants to be like him. Maybe we don’t get it, but maybe we get close.

“Miggy, he is one of the best.”

Perez’s relationship with Cabrera goes back to 2011, his rookie season, when he sidled up to the batting cage to watch Cabrera and Victor Martinez take their hacks.

“We talked a little bit,” Perez said. “It was a dream come true. This is a guy I seen on TV, now I’m playing against him. I’m 21 years old (at the time) and it’s like, ‘Wow.’”

The Tigers and Royals battled for Central Division dominance for several years during the height of Cabrera’s productivity. In fact, Cabrera’s 257 hits against the Royals are the most he’s hit off any team other than Cleveland (266).

“Even though we play for different teams, he’s still from Venezuela,” Perez said. “So I feel happy for this, happy for my country. I always say, Miggy represents every Venezuelan player in the big leagues. I know we play each other a lot. He wants to win and I want to win.

“But we’re from the same country. It makes me feel proud that a guy from Venezuela is doing what he’s doing now.”

Perez, who has had the misfortune of trying to game plan against Cabrera 142 times over the years, offered some astute, if not completely tongue-in-cheek, insight on how to pitch him.

“Throw it right in the middle,” he said, laughing. “If you get too fine, that’s when he gets his hits a lot. Throw it down the middle and see what happens. I tell him, ‘Just one pitch and see what happens, Miggy, OK?’

“Like every game, with everybody we play, we have a meeting, the starting pitcher, pitching coach, catcher, and we have a plan. But guys like him, he’s going to be himself. He knows what he has to do. And we need to throw strikes. He’s the best for me. He’s the best hitter.”

Cabrera was asked before Thursday’s game about his influence in Venezuela.

“This was a dream come true for me,” he said. “And I want to say, if there is any kid in Venezuela that sees this, I want them to know — if I can make it, they can make it.”

That he’s just one of three hitters to ever maintain a .300 average while slugging 500-plus home runs speaks to that. He could go hitless over his next 350 at-bats and still have a .300 career batting average.

Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario often tells a story that, in a hilarious way, helps explain Cabrera’s hitting approach and makes hit No. 3,000 even more fitting. On the team plane a couple of seasons back, Cabrera pulled out a duffel bag filled with cash, like stacks and stacks of bills.

Players seated around him started to laugh and shake their heads in amazement. According Candelario, Cabrera fished out a fist full of bills, turned around in his seat and told his teammates, “See? This is what happens when you learn to hit the ball to right field.”

To that point, Cabrera’s 3,000 hits were placed thusly, according to Baseball Reference: 871 to the pull field (left), 1,497 up the middle and 626 to right field. Six of the hits were undocumented. His home runs were similarly to all fields: 185 to left, 211 up the middle, 106 to right.

“There’s a point where you really need to step back and appreciate what we’re watching,” Hinch said. “And not 10 years from now or 15 years from now. Every single day we can learn something from Miggy.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has been on all sides of Cabrera’s quest — opposing player, teammate and now opposing manager. He was the Yankees third baseman in the 2003 World Series and watched Cabrera’s epic home run off Roger Clemens sail over the right-field wall.

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“I had the good fortune of playing with Miggy in 2007 with the Marlins,” Boone said. “He’s as great a hitter as I’ve ever played with and I think on the very short list of greatest right-handed hitters probably of all-time and certainly of this generation.”

And that’s something Boone saw very early in Cabrera’s development.

“He was still a fairly young man in 2007 and one of the things that struck me about Miggy was just how much better he was between the ears in the box,” Boone said. “I’d call him a savant. He has a pretty special ability to set things up, think along with how they’re going to attack him. He has the ability to make adjustments, having the swing versatility to be able to do things that are rather unique.

“He’s a first-ballot all-timer.”

That can all come later, Cabrera said. Right now, his only goal is to get the Tigers back into the playoffs, back into the World Series.

“The goal is to get the win,” he said. “That’s most important to me. I know the history of this is important but we are building something here that’s very special. We need to win games.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the team.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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