DETROIT — Ten years ago this week, Miguel Cabrera made the late charge that won him a Triple Crown and helped the Tigers capture their second straight AL Central title, both finished off in Kansas City. On Wednesday, he helped the Tigers beat the Royals again in what became a bullpen game after starter Matt Manning was scratched.
No, the stakes weren’t nearly as high. Still, as his first-inning drive soared through the autumn air and into the visiting bullpen at Comerica Park for a two-run home run that became the difference in a 2-1 win, one could be excused for a twinge of sentimentality.
Cabrera hadn’t homered since July 25, and had homered only once since May 15. He was 3-for-19 — all singles — since his return last week from a biceps strain. He’d missed a chance at a go-ahead hit Tuesday night when he lined out to right off a 99 mph fastball from Royals reliever Carlos Hernández following Harold Castro’s game-tying single in the eighth inning.
Between Cabrera’s aching knees and the biceps issue, it was fair to wonder whether he would homer again this season. However, he had been showing a little more confidence to swing hard rather than slash line drives to the opposite field like he had been for much of the summer.
When he extended his arms to reach for a Daniel Lynch slider down and in, the approach paid off. The 31-degree launch angle was tied for his highest on a home run this season, according to Statcast, but the loft allowed it to carry through the chilly conditions and over the fence.
“It feels good,” Cabrera said. “After I came back from the [injured list], I started to swing better and swing more free. Hopefully I can keep my biceps strong and my knees strong and make better swings at home plate and try to make something happen.”
His homer made for a bounce-back inning, and just when the Tigers needed it. Detroit was forced to deal with an early deficit after MJ Melendez jumped on spot starter Will Vest for a leadoff homer.
“I don’t care who hit it, but it’s nice that Miggy hit it pull-side,” said manager A.J. Hinch, whose team has won seven of its last eight games and could tie a season high with a sixth straight win if it can take Thursday afternoon’s finale. “It’s obviously nice to respond. Our guys have had a really good vibe about things. We’ve fallen behind during this stretch of games. We’ve taken the lead and tacked on.”
In the process, Cabrera not only flipped the numbers hanging on the left-field concourse, he crept up one more leaderboard. The two RBIs pushed him past Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski — the last player to win a Triple Crown before Cabrera — for 12th on the Major League all-time list with 1,845, according to official totals kept by Elias Sports Bureau.
Cabrera got a small bit of revenge off Hernández with an eighth-inning single Wednesday. The 2-for-4 performance pushed Cabrera’s all-time hit total to 3,084, five away from tying Ichiro Suzuki for 23rd on the all-time list according to Elias. With the Tigers heading to Seattle for four games next week to finish their season, it’s entirely possible Cabrera could match or surpass Ichiro in his longtime home ballpark.
Once the season ends, of course, the topic of Cabrera’s future and his potential role for next season will be among those discussed by Hinch and new Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris, who was asked about Cabrera during his introductory press conference last week. Harris said he wants to sit down and talk with Cabrera before approaching that situation.
That’ll be a topic for later. For now, it’s worth appreciating Cabrera do damage against a familiar foe. While Lynch became the 353rd different pitcher to give up a Cabrera home run in the Majors, Cabrera homered off Royals pitching for the 35th time in his career, fourth-most among Major League teams. Not surprisingly, the other three are the other AL Central opponents.