Detroit — Up until the fourth inning Sunday, this was shaping up as a most memorable day at Comerica Park.
It was MiggyFest and as they typically do, the Tigers produced a wonderful tribute honoring Miguel Cabrera for achieving the 3,000-hit and 500-home run milestones. Manager AJ Hinch and former Tigers’ All-Star catcher Alex Avila gave stirring speeches.
“Miguel, thank you for creating this memory for all of us,” Hinch said. “I’m often asked what it’s like to manage Miggy? It’s the best to manage one of the best of all-time.”
Among the dignitaries on hand were chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch and general manager Al Avila, both of whom were booed upon introduction.
There was a heart-tugging video tribute narrated by Cabrera’s daughter Brisel. And a glorious finale. The Tigers had teased a surprise guest. Which turned out to be Cabrera’s longtime teammate in Detroit, Victor Martinez.
The joyous surprise on Cabrera’s face when Martinez walked up the dugout steps was priceless.
“That was awesome,” Cabrera said afterward. “We’re really close friends and for him to be at this ceremony meant a lot to me.”
And through the first three innings, the Tigers and Jays were locked in a scoreless battle. Then the Toronto bats woke up, batted around in the fourth inning and spoiled the day for the Tigers and starter Tarik Skubal — winning the three-game series with a 6-0 victory in front of another mixed-allegiance crowd of 29,399.
“I didn’t do my job, that’s as simple as it gets,” Skubal said after his shortest outing since his first start on April 10. “I didn’t do a good job of putting our team in a position to win a ballgame and a series against a good club. That’s on me.”
The four-run fourth was ignited by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. Skubal threw a two-seam fastball and Guerrero smashed a 424-foot missile over the bullpen in left-center, a two-run homer.
“Sinker down and in, kind of where I was going with it,” Skubal said. “It was pretty well executed. He’s just a good hitter. Tip your cap in that situation. But the other hard contact came on balls not going where I wanted them to.”
Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., followed with well-struck doubles. The fourth run came on a fly ball to the track in right-center that Austin Meadows and Victor Reyes converged on but neither caught.
At that point, the Blue Jays had hit four balls off Skubal with exit velocities of 104 mph or better, and three others at 96 mph or better.
“I felt like when I made the pitches where I wanted to, generally the results were in my favor,” Skubal said. “That’s a good lineup and they fouled off some good pitches, made me throw more pitches and I unfortunately missed some spots.”
It was the first time he’s allowed more than three runs since April 28.
“It’s good to have that type of adversity on the mound,” Skubal said. “You learn a lot about yourself and you learn how to keep moving forward, attack tomorrow and get better.”
The more pressing, the more lingering and troublesome concern for the Tigers remains the toothless offense. Two singles is all they mustered Sunday. Blue Jays starter Ross Stripling allowed one hit and faced the minimum 18 hitters through six innings.
“It’s been a rough season,” said Cabrera who reached on an error and was erased in a double-play in the fifth. “I think we need to do a better job offensively and start winning some more games. We’ve got to keep grinding, go out and have better at-bats and see better pitches.”
It was suggested to Hinch afterward that 59 games into the season, this might be just who the Tigers are, a low-scoring offense with no discernable power threat.
“No, no, no,” he said. “I don’t think you ever accept mediocrity. These guys have track records. I believe where these guys are going. That’s what gives us optimism to come out of it. The mechanism to do it is harder than just saying it or harder that just believing it.
“You’ve got to go out and do it.”
The Tigers haven’t hit a home run in eight straight games, the longest drought since 1989-1990 when they went 10 games without a dinger.
“If we just cash in the season and take the numbers where they are, I mean, that’s a horrible way to play professional sports,” Hinch said. “It’s very reactionary and not how we’re going to operate.
“We have another challenge tomorrow and another opportunity.”
Cabrera wasn’t accepting the “this is who they are” premise, either.
“It’s a long season, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You have to think positive and go out there tomorrow and play right, play hard and play to win the game.”
Cabrera did take a minute to reflect on the ceremony.
“Special,” he said. “You only get this one time in your life. I don’t know how you can handle it. But at the same time, it was awesome. I want to say thank you to the fans, say thank you to you guys (media) and to the organization. It was a special moment for me.”
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