Miggy gets ‘chance to say goodbye’ in final Comerica Park opener

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera said Thursday morning that he wasn’t sure if he’d get emotional for his final Tigers home opener. He wanted to focus on the game. Still, when an all-time Detroit sports great calls you to the field, it’s hard to say no.

When three greats ask, good luck.

Sure, the gesture was choreographed as former Red Wing Nicklas Lidström, ex-Lion Calvin Johnson and former Piston Ben Wallace — Hall of Famers all — paused before their ceremonial first pitches and looked to the Tigers’ dugout for Cabrera, who had just received a raucous ovation minutes earlier during pregame introductions before a sellout crowd of 44,650 at Comerica Park. The symbolism was impossible to miss. The image was impossible to forget.

“Obviously taking the field is special,” Tigers teammate and Detroit native Eric Haase said, “but seeing those guys out there, they were a big part of my childhood.”

Tigers pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal caught the first pitches from Johnson and Wallace, respectively. Both pitchers knew Cabrera would be brought out for the ceremony, but neither knew he’d be throwing a first pitch.

Cabrera had fun with it, holding his follow-through for effect on his delivery to teammate and fellow Venezuelan Eduardo Rodriguez. Still, you could tell the gesture meant the world.

“I’m happy with this moment. I’m not sad,” Cabrera said before the series-opening 6-3 loss to the Red Sox. “I’m happy, because it’s been a good 21 years in the big leagues. I never take anything for granted. I’m going to enjoy this year, and when they give me a chance to play, hopefully I can do my job.”

When Cabrera had his opportunity Thursday, he delivered. It wasn’t a mammoth home run, but he produced the kind of clutch hit that his 20 years of experience and his soon-to-be 40-year-old body can provide.

“He’s just a pure hitter, up there with [Albert] Pujols,” Red Sox manager and former opponent Alex Cora said before the game. “He can hit for average, hit for power, and [he has] that uncanny ability for driving in runs.”

Cabrera’s chance Thursday came in the third inning with two outs and runners at the corners after Haase and Spencer Torkelson lined two-out singles to left off Chris Sale to set up a familiar matchup. Among active pitchers, only Corey Kluber has faced Cabrera more often than Sale, a rivalry that began with Sale’s rookie season with the White Sox in 2010. No active pitcher has struck out Cabrera more often. But they hadn’t faced each other since ‘19, before injuries slowed Sale’s career.

Cabrera was the first Tiger to put a ball in play Thursday off Sale, who survived a 24-pitch opening inning that featured back-to-back four-pitch walks followed by three strikeouts. Cabrera grounded out off a changeup to lead off the second before Jake Rogers’ two-run homer later in the inning put Detroit in front.

With an RBI chance in the third, Cabrera fouled off back-to-back sliders from Sale to fall into a 1-2 count. Sale tried to finish him off with a fastball at the top of the strike zone, but left it down enough. Cabrera adjusted and lashed it. It wasn’t crushed, but the 90.8 mph line drive went up the middle and into center untouched.

As Cabrera let go of the bat, he had a brief moment of celebration, having beaten Sale once more. He improved to 17-for-57 in their rivalry, with four homers and eight RBIs.

“He plays with joy,” Cora said, “and it’s been a pleasure to see him play.”

Cabrera’s 3,091st career hit produced his 1,849th career RBI. Of those, 659 RBIs have come with two outs. No other current Tiger has that many RBIs for their career in any situation.

As Cabrera rolled into first base and said hello to Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas — a Miami native who was 3 years old when Cabrera hit a walk-off homer in his Major League debut for the Marlins in 2003 — the crowd roared. The lead didn’t last, but the moment will.

“I think I appreciate this moment because not too many guys in baseball get a chance to say goodbye,” Cabrera said. “I have a chance to say it’s going to be my last year. I’m going to enjoy the last ride, like people say. I always say thank God because he gave me an opportunity to enjoy this moment.”

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