Detroit Tigers Newsletter: A tip of the cap to Miguel Cabrera’s history vs. Hall of Famers

Detroit Free Press

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard some variation of the phrase “tip your cap” used by a player (or manager — we hear you, Ron Gardenhire) over the five years of this here Detroit Tigers Newsletter … well, I’d probably have been able to afford better seats for the Tigers’ series opener against the Houston Astros this weekend. (Unfortunately, ’90s Night didn’t refer to ticket prices.)

But sometimes, “tip your cap” has a real meaning, as we saw in the second inning Sunday afternoon when Miguel Cabrera came to the plate to face former Tigers teammate Justin Verlander at Comerica Park.

As Cabrera stepped into the batter’s box, and the umpire held off the pitch clock a few spare seconds to allow for a standing ovation, J.V. went to the brim of his cap — once, twice and then a third time, until finally Miggy acknowledged him with a touch of his own to the brim of his helmet.

It was a moment that, in the words of Verlander, was “pretty cool.”

“The fans were great, which I’ve always appreciated,” Verlander told reporters. “And getting a second to tip my cap to Miggy before we go at it was pretty cool. We’ve had a lot of great memories together on and off the field. And I love that guy and just have so much respect for him. I’m glad A.J. (Hinch) put him in the lineup and I’m glad we had that moment.”

Even Astros manager Dusty Baker, as good an arbiter of “cool” as there is in baseball — he invented the high five! — was impressed.

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“Both of them will be in the Hall someday,” Baker said. “You like to see matchups like that.”

And so, even Verlander was moved to, well, tip his cap to his old teammate (who’s actually 67 days younger than the right-hander). As Verlander noted, “Those moments don’t happen too often.”

Hello, and welcome to the Cooperstown Showdown Newsletter!

Of course, Verlander isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame yet. Shoot, he may still be pitching for the Astros on the weekend Cabrera is inducted — y’know, in July 2029. But Cabrera has plenty of experience with hurlers who already have their plaques hanging in Cooperstown.

Cabrera has faced nine* pitchers — Tom Glavine, Roy Halladay, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera and John Smoltz — currently in the Hall, over a total of 156 plate appearances. Against those nine, Cabrera has a posted a .300/.359/.529 slash line; that nearly matches Hall of Famer Mike Piazza’s career line (.308/.377/.545) … but against arguably the greatest pitchers of the past three decades.

*We’re leaving Roger Clemens out of the list; he certainly has the Hall credentials with seven Cy Young awards, but the PED stain of the late 1990s and early 2000s is still clinging to him in Hall voters’ minds. Cabrera only went 1-for-12 in the regular season against Clemens, bringing his career slash line vs. “Hall of Famers” down to .287/.351/.500 — basically Jeff Kent’s career, but, again, against the greatest pitchers. (Then again, Cabrera produced when it counted against Clemens: Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. Make of that what you will.)

Here’s how Cabrera fared against the Cooperstown Nine, as it were, individually:

Tom Glavine

No one in the group gave up more extra base hits than the Braves lefty: six, in all (four doubles and two homers) as part of 12 hits in 47 plate appearances. Cabrera was also an RBI machine, with 14, walking six times and striking out five times.

Roy Halladay

Cabrera mustered just one hit in six tries off the Blue Jays and Phillies ace, a single back to the mound in April 2009. He struck out once, with one walk.

Trevor Hoffman

The only Hall of Famer to not allow a hit to Cabrera — but they only faced each other three times, as the longtime Padres reliever got Cabrera to hit deep flyouts in May 2005 and April 2006, and struck him out in August 2005.

Randy Johnson

“The Big Unit” controlled the strike zone, at least; while Johnson allowed four hits (two doubles) in 12 plate appearances, the lefty didn’t issue a walk and struck out Cabrera four times.

Greg Maddux

Cabrera hit .364 (8-for-22) with four doubles and a homer over 26 plate appearances. Perhaps most impressively, Cabrera coaxed three walks from the stingy righty while striking out just once.

Pedro Martinez

Another matchup that favored contact, as Cabrera went 6-for-16 (.375) with two doubles, a walk and five strikeouts — tied for second-most among the HOF’ers.

Mike Mussina

They only faced each other three times, all in one game on June 25, 2006 — Cabrera went 2-for-3 with a line-drive double laced to the wall in right-center.

Mariano Rivera

The Yankees closer won the first four plate appearances, with three grounders and a flyout to right between 2008-11, but Miggy had the last laugh in August 2013, with homers in back-to-back ninth-inning showdowns in the Bronx, an environment so electric, the Freep’s Shawn Windsor was still reliving it nearly a decade later.

John Smoltz

You could almost call it a draw between the native Michigander (and would-be Tiger — Smoltz was drafted by the Tigers in 1985’s 22nd round) and Detroit’s adopted son, as the Lansing-raised Smoltz struck out Cabrera 10 times in 36 plate appearances, but also allowed seven hits (including a double and a home run) and three walks.

There you have it: 42 hits in 140 at-bats against Hall of Famers. It’s not quite “(expletive) Tony Gwynn” territory — but it’s pretty good. In 5-10 years’ time, we may have to revise some of Cabrera’s totals vs. Hall of Famers; eventually, his pitching counterparts from the past decade — Verlander, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, among others — will retire and be inducted into the Hall. Most have fared slightly better against Cabrera (though Greinke has allowed 13 hits by Cabrera in 43 at-bats), as we saw in Sunday’s battles between J.V. and Miggy.

But for now, we can simply tip our caps to Cabrera’s performances against the best of the best.

Talk of the town

There’ll be even more cap-tipping for Miggy at 10 p.m. Tuesday night, when Bally Sports Detroit airs an hour-long special, “Miguel Cabrera: One of a Kind,” featuring behind-the-scenes talks with Miggy’s peers around the majors on what makes the slugger so special. The Freep’s Jeff Seidel got a sneak peek over the weekend and it has, well, as he put it, “taken away my Miggy fatigue.” Find out what Our Man Seidel really dug, as well as what Miggy thought of Detroit when he was traded in 2007.

Inside the Park-er

As so often happens, as one career winds down, another starts up: Outfield prospect Parker Meadows made his MLB debut on Monday, then kept impressing as the week went on: A hit Monday, a diving catch and a triple Tuesday and, yes, a walk-off home run Friday (after a homer-robbing catch, and followed by a two-hit game with a steal Saturday). So how does Meadows feel about it all? “It doesn’t feel real,” the 23-year-old told reporters Friday. Head here to get more from Our Man Petzold, and find out how Meadows got the ball back from his first home run.

Move it on over

Meadows’ arrival in center field creates a bit of a logjam for playing time in the outfield, however, and pushes Riley Greene into one of the corner spots. But the second-year outfielder — who’s 330 days younger than the rookie — isn’t sweating it. As Greene told Our Man Petzold last week, “I told him, he’s the boss out there … so take charge and tell me where to go.” Find out why the Tigers think the move will help Greene down the road.

Next up?

Meadows’ so-far-successful arrival might have folks — including some in the Tigers front office — wondering who’ll be the next Mud Hen to make the big-league leap. Scott Harris, Tigers president of baseball operations, isn’t saying for sure, but third baseman Colt Keith and outfielder (for now) Justyn-Henry Malloy are “knocking on the door,” in the POBO’s own words. Keith is hitting .406 with four homers during his current eight-game hitting streak; Malloy is hitting .405 over his past 12 games (with hits in 10 of them). Find out why their bats are what’s holding them back.

The other new guy

Catcher Carson Kelly also made his Tigers debut last week, though, as an eight-year vet, the excitement was a little less palpable. It was a different kind of weekend for Kelly, who pinch-ran for Cabrera on Friday night and scored the tying run in the ninth inning, picked up his first hit as a Tiger in a start behind the plate Saturday, then gave up a run on four hits over 2/3 of an inning in mop-up duty on the mound Sunday. That’s probably not exactly what Hinch meant when he said, “we want him to just play.” Find out what he did mean from Our Man Petzold.

Alex in charge

Kelly’s pinch-run score and Meadows’ walk-off blast on Friday night had a benefit for another Tiger: Reliever Alex Lange, who earned the win following another scoreless inning — his third straight appearance in the ninth for the Tigers and the latest evidence that, while Lange may not be the Tigers’ official closer, he’s still one of the most important relievers on the roster. Find out from Our Man Petzold why Lange is again getting “opportunities in the big moments.”

3 to watch

While we’re on the topic of pitchers, what is this, 2022? We’re not a doctor, but we’ve still got a trio of mending pitches to keep an eye on:

MATT MANNING: He left a one-hitter Friday night with back issues, but hopes he’ll make his next start on Wednesday.

CASEY MIZE: The rehabbing righty faced live batters for the first time since May 2022 and looked, in a word, “electric.”

SPENCER TURNBULL: The veteran righty is healthy but hasn’t been good, so he’ll be staying in Triple-A for a while.

Happy birthday, Kerry Barrels!

Tigers outfielder Kerry Carpenter turns 26 on Saturday — the second day of September — and he’ll probably be sorry to see August end: Sunday’s 0-for-3 was just his fourth hitless performance in 24 games this month. It hasn’t been weak contact, either: His .738 slugging percentage — with four doubles and nine home runs — is second during the month (among MLB’ers with at least 50 plate appearances), behind only Mookie Betts’ .814 for the L.A. Dodgers. Carpenter’s August 1.174 OPS is also No. 2 in baseball behind Betts (1.328). Then again, Carpenter hasn’t just been hot in August; since he returned from the injured list (shoulder) on June 9, the lefty has a .945 OPS (including 16 homers) over 249 plate appearances. So what’s his secret? As Our Man Petzold wrote a couple weeks ago, Carpenter credits his resilience; head here to find out what manager A.J. Hinch thinks is the key.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: John Hicks (34 on Thursday), Ramon Santiago (44 on Thursday), Hideo Nomo (55 on Thursday), Willy Adames (28 on Saturday), Nate Robertson (46 on Sunday), Luis Gonzalez (56 on Sunday).

Mark your calendar

Carpenter’s early birthday present: More wins? No team in baseball has an easier schedule than the Tigers the rest of the way, and it’s not close: Detroit’s remaining foes have a .440 winning percentage, more than 20 points below No. 29. (The next worst is Minnesota, at .461, so maybe don’t expect to gain much in the AL Central standings.) That woeful strength of schedule is, in large part, thanks to the Tigers’ two opponents for the next <sigh> 14 days: Four home games against the New York Yankees (who’ve lost 12 of their past 15 games), followed by three road games against the Chicago White Sox (who’ve lost 10 of their past 15), followed by three road games vs. the Yankees, followed by three home games against the ChiSox. Yeesh. (And what about tonight’s game vs. the Yanks? Head here to get the scouting report on starter Luis Severino, who you perhaps do not need to tip your cap to this season.)

TL;DR

Come to think of it, if any team was gonna literally tip their cap to Cabrera this season, we probably should have expected it’d be the one that gave him a 10-gallon chapeau back in April for his final rodeo, eh?

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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