‘Win this division’: Miguel Cabrera sets grand Detroit Tigers goals in wake of 3,000th hit

Detroit Free Press

Miguel Cabrera took center stage inside the clubhouse.

Cabrera, wearing his Detroit Tigers hoodie and his baseball pants, had the attention of the room. Teammates and coaches focused intently on the 39-year-old who just penned his name in the history books, collecting the 3,000th hit of his career.

He gripped a glass filled with non-alcoholic champagne.

“It was a very emotional moment for me and my family,” Cabrera said Saturday afternoon. “I was so nervous because I wanted to do it in front of the hometown, Detroit. I wanted to do it in front of these fans.

“You guys saw how they supported us. They showed up today. We showed up today, too. We scored a lot of runs, we got a lot of hits, we got the win. I think that’s the most important thing for us — winning. We got a great group of guys here. We can win this division. Let’s keep it up. Let’s play hard. Let’s do it.”

Cabrera, a 20-year MLB veteran, seems at peace with his status in baseball’s kingdom: Triple Crown; two-time MVP; 2003 World Series champion; 11-time All-Star; seven-time Silver Slugger; four-time batting champion; a king in Venezuela, an icon for Latin America; lifetime  .310 batting average with 3,002 hits; 502 home runs and 599 doubles in 2,601 games;  the only player with 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and a Triple Crown.

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His awards and milestones paint him as one of the best hitters to ever play the game and a lock for enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame his first time on the ballot.

“I’m still dreaming,” Cabrera said. “To see 3,000, it was pretty special.”

‘He wants to win’

Cabrera became the 33rd player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies, a 13-0 win for the Tigers in which he finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

He singled to right field off Rockies starter Antonio Senzatela, a fellow Venezuelan, in the first inning. That made Cabrera one of seven players with at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. The others: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.

Cabrera sparked a four-run first inning.

“He wants to win,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s seen this place at its height, and he’s seen this place at its lowest point. He wants to be a part of something great again. He’s not naïve. He knows the time is limited moving forward, but he also knows we have a much better team today than we’ve had in previous years with him.”

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Not long after Cabrera’s hit, Tigers rookie first baseman Spencer Torkelson — a prospect Cabrera has glowed about since spring training — hammered a three-run home run on a first-pitch fastball. He hasn’t faced many of these pitchers before, meaning there aren’t individualized approaches. He knows scouting reports, though.

“I like to stay on the heater a lot,” Torkelson said. “I’m staying on the fastball, adjusting from there and trusting myself.”

The former No. 1 overall pick has three home runs and 10 hits in his 15-game MLB career. Hinch joked that Torkelson has 2,990 hits to go if he wants to get into Cabrera’s club.

“He’s better than me,” Cabrera said Thursday morning, two days before No. 3,000. “I don’t care about the numbers, I think he’s better.”

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And then there was Torkelson on Saturday, hitting a home run to drive in Cabrera and put the Tigers ahead 4-0.

“He couldn’t be left out there on the bases after 3,000,” Torkelson said. “It was only right.”

“He’s always been a win-first guy,” Tigers starter Tarik Skubal said. “Now we have the culture where we want to win every single day. It starts with A.J., and then him leading the clubhouse.”

A candid Cabrera

On Thursday morning, Cabrera leaned back in his chair at his locker, kicked up his feet and chatted with reporters for about 20 minutes.  He talked at length about his love for two places: Venezuela and Detroit.

Cabrera, at times, downplayed his emotions, such as his seemingly never-ending jokes about bunting for his 3,000th hit. Those spoofs started late last year, continued into spring training and carried into the season.

He talked about his close relationship with Tigers legend Al Kaline, a member of the 3,000-hit club, nicknamed Mr. Tiger, who died in April 2020.

“I miss him,” Cabrera said.

To go with Cabrera, Kaline (3,007) and Ty Cobb (4,189) are the only Tigers players with 3,000 hits.

Cabrera told a humorous story about a New York Yankees scout from 2003. The scout didn’t think Cabrera would make it to the big leagues as a hitter. The Yankees fired him for evaluating Cabrera as a starting pitcher.

He shared details of a personal phone conversation with his father, also named Miguel, who nervously watched from Venezuela as his son chased another accolade. The elder Miguel had to close his eyes for some of the at-bats.

The topic of fatherhood took Cabrera to his son, Christopher, a 10-year-old who models his game, and his swagger, after Ronald Acuña Jr. These days, Cabrera enjoys watching Acuña and Shohei Ohtani.

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Watching Christopher’s youth baseball games makes Cabrera nervous, just like Cabrera’s father felt watching his son track down 3,000 hits.

The memories, the laughs and the candidness went on and on.

He also shared a tip from his offseason hitting coach: “Forget about the big ball, play small ball and make contact with the ball.”

‘We need to win here again’

Cabrera wants to bring winning baseball back to Detroit, but to do that, he needs top prospects Torkelson and Riley Greene in the lineup. And he thinks they’re going to be “(expletive) good” for the Tigers.

It was fitting Torkelson homered in the first inning.

Two years remain on Cabrera contract, this season and next. He previously said he plans to retire after the 2023 season.

“I tried to take it all in as much as possible — watch Miggy, witness greatness and history,” Torkelson said. “It’s something really cool right now, and I bet in 10 years, it’s going to be one helluva story that I was there when Miggy did that. I’m lucky.”

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Cabrera, who has scored on two of Torkelson’s three home runs, said he has no problem moving down in the batting order, the same way he didn’t hesitate to introduce Torkelson as the new first baseman.

If the roster keeps improving, Cabrera wouldn’t complain about hitting seventh or eighth in the lineup as the designated hitter. He moved down to fifth this season — a product of Javier Báez signing with the Tigers — for the first time since August 2008.

“When I came to Detroit (in December 2007), we were a good team,” Cabrera said. “We were always a good team, in the playoffs. We need to win here again. We’ve got some really good young guys.”

With Cabrera at his best, the Tigers won four consecutive American League Central Division titles ( 2011-14). They reached the 2012 World Series but were swept by the San Francisco Giants.

The Tigers haven’t made the postseason since 2014.

“He wants to be on a winning team,” Hinch said. “He’s tired of losing. He’s tired of being at the bottom of the AL Central. He wants everybody to experience Detroit the way he remembers it at its peak. That’s very important when your biggest, baddest dude that has the most credibility in the building says that.”

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When Cabrera notched No. 3,000, the game between the Tigers and Rockies paused to recognize his greatness. His teammates and coaches embraced him. He walked behind home plate and connected with his mother Gregoria, wife Rosangel, daughter Brisel and son Christopher.

The 37,566 fans at Comerica Park gave Cabrera a standing ovation.

“Fires me up,” Torkelson said. “I know it fires up all the guys. We like playing in front of people. We like making the fans happy. It makes the wins that much sweeter when there’s a lot of people in the stands.”

If the Tigers win, those fans will be back.

“A lot of memories,” Cabrera said. “When I first got here to Detroit, I remember we always had 35,000, 40,000 people every night. To see the fans come back to the stadium like that, it was very emotional. I know what the fans mean to our games and our team. They support us. I was really happy to see all the fans.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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