Former Detroit Tigers teammates Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander show respect in finale

Detroit Free Press

In Sunday’s battle of MLB greats, Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch didn’t hesitate to make his pick.

“I’ll take Miggy,” he said.

The Tigers lost, 17-4, to the Houston Astros in Sunday’s series finale at Comerica Park. Within the game, however, there was a special final showdown between Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera and Astros right-hander Justin Verlander, former teammates and future Hall of Famers.

“Getting a second to tip my cap to Miggy before we go at it was pretty cool,” Verlander said. “We’ve had a lot of great memories on and off the field. I love that guy. I have so much respect for him.”

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Cabrera, set to retire after the 2023 season, went 0-for-2 with one strikeout in two plate appearances against Verlander in Sunday’s loss. He will finish his 21-year career — barring a miraculous postseason rematch — without a hit off Verlander in five plate appearances, including two strikeouts. Cabrera and Verlander squared off for the first time on Aug. 21, 2019, at Comerica Park, nearly two years after the Tigers traded Verlander to the Astros.

“Those moments don’t happen too often,” Verlander said.

Verlander, who became the first pitcher to win 100 games at Comerica Park, tipped his cap to Cabrera in the second inning before their first of two matchups. Cabrera responded to the gesture by tipping his helmet.

Cabrera struck out looking at a nasty 77.9 mph curveball at the top of the strike zone in the second inning. He chased a down-and-away curveball and grounded into a forceout to end the third.

“A hat tip says a million things,” Verlander said.

Astros manager Dusty Baker, who played 19 MLB seasons (1968-86) before his 26-season managerial career, compared the Cabrera-Verlander matchup to two other elite showdowns he witnessed: Barry Bonds-Pedro Martinez and Hank Aaron-Bob Gibson.

“History may judge it that way,” Verlander said. “When you’re the person doing it, though, I don’t think you really quite think about it like that.”

Before Sunday’s game, Hinch was asked about the Cabrera-Verlander matchup. He has managed Cabrera since 2021, but he managed Verlander from 2017-19. Hinch picked Cabrera, but he couldn’t help but marvel at the rare showdown between two of the greatest players in baseball history.

“Competitively, it’s hard not to be super one-sided in that,” Hinch said. “J.V. can either miss with four and let Miggy walk and throw his bat, or he can put one right there for him if he wants to honor him.”

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Cabrera, 40, is a 12-time All-Star, a World Series champion (2003), a two-time American League MVP (2012, 2013), a Triple Crown winner (2012) and a four-time AL batting champ (2011-13, 2015) with a .307 batting average, 3,151 hits and 510 home runs in his 21-year MLB career. He is one of three players in MLB history with at least 3,000 hits, 500 homers and 600 doubles, alongside Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols.

Verlander, 40, is a nine-time All-Star, a two-time World Series champion (2017, 2022), a three-time Cy Young winner (2011, 2019, 2022), the 2011 AL MVP and 2006 AL Rookie of the Year with 254 wins and 3,308 strikeouts in his 18-year MLB career. He pitched no-hitters in 2007 and 2011 with the Tigers and another in 2019 with the Astros.

They were teammates from 2008, when Cabrera joined the Tigers in a trade from the Marlins, until 2017, when Verlander was dealt to Houston.

“His natural talent was always something that stood out,” Verlander said. “His right-handed swing is one of the most pure right-handed swings in the history of baseball. I’ve been taken aback by his raw ability from the second I played with him.”

The Tigers posted an 825-764 record — for a .519 winning percentage — across 1,589 games with Cabrera and Verlander in the organization together from March 31, 2008, to August 31, 2017.

“As a baseball enthusiast, how awesome is it to have two living legends who are both ticketed for the Hall of Fame, especially here at this ballpark, our franchise,” Hinch said before Sunday’s matchup. “They mean the world to what the Tigers have been for multiple decades, so it’s cool to take a step back and look at that, and I hope our guy has a way better game.”

Cabrera didn’t get a hit against Verlander, but in the eighth inning, he launched a 391-foot three-run home run off Astros right-handed reliever Phil Maton, sending a third-pitch sweeper over the wall in left-center for his 510th career homer. With the blast, Cabrera passed Gary Sheffield — another former Tigers teammate — for 26th on MLB’s all-time list.

“You’re rooting for your guys in your clubhouse,” Verlander said. “Anytime you get to witness history, though, it’s something special. Every time Miggy gets a hit or a home run, it’s a piece of history.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him @EvanPetzold.

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