OAKLAND — With every game he plays and each hit that drops in Miguel Cabrera‘s final weeks in the big leagues, his illustrious 21-year career can only be measured in comparison with those of baseball’s biggest legends.
With his fourth-inning two-bagger in the Tigers’ 8-2 loss to the A’s on Friday night at the Coliseum, Cabrera continued his steady ascent up Major League Baseball’s offensive leaderboards, tying the venerable Henry Aaron for 13th all-time with his 624th career double and good friend Adrián Beltré for 14th with his 1,151st career extra-base hit.
Cabrera isn’t ready to think about his place among baseball’s all-time greats just yet — he’ll have plenty of time for that once he retires following the end of the season — but being mentioned in the same breath as Hammerin’ Hank meant a lot to him.
“Hank Aaron is one of the best hitters who played this game,” Cabrera said. “Being tied with him in doubles is awesome.”
Detroit’s loss in Oakland followed a 13-7 stretch dating back to Aug. 31, the club’s best record in a 20-game span since July 17-Aug. 5, 2021. Asked before Friday’s game what the club has been doing well of late, manager A.J. Hinch first pointed to the Tigers’ solid starting pitching and athletic style of play before noting an intangible quality: his team’s attitude when it comes to playing to win, no matter where they are in the season or the standings.
That can be a difficult mindset to keep up for a team that is out of the playoff picture in late September. Where has it come from?
“It’s all Miguel talks about,” said Hinch, who managed his 1,500th game on Friday. “I mean, he’ll have a reaction to fans that cheer him when he … walks off after punching out or runs off the field after grounding out or popping up. He’s not into, like, the free love. He wants to win and earn respect.”
Of course, Hinch acknowledged, Cabrera’s influence is not the only factor at play. Past, present and future have come together to create Detroit’s team culture. After playing — and winning — together all through the Minors, the next generation of Tigers has brought the same high standard to the big leagues.
Right-hander Sawyer Gipson-Long is among the Detroit newcomers aiming to build a bright future for the club. Making his third career start, MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 Tigers prospect held the A’s to one run on four hits and three walks across five innings.
Despite not having his sharpest stuff, Gipson-Long punched out four batters, joining Denny McLain (22, 1963) as the only Tigers pitchers to record 20 or more strikeouts through their first three career games.
“You’re going to have to pitch with less than your best at times, and he did,” Hinch said. “Hats off to Sawyer. I mean, he competed his tail off, which he’s always going to do, and found a way to navigate through some trouble early.”
Gipson-Long threw a career-high 89 pitches and successfully escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam in his fifth and final inning. He exited with a one-run lead that didn’t hold for long, as the A’s scored seven unanswered runs against the Tigers’ bullpen.
“I think that it was a good learning curve for me,” Gipson-Long said. “Just being able to battle through an inning like that. … Sometimes pro hitters get hits, and there’s nothing you can do about it except move on to the next one and try and execute the next pitch. But it was a good experience for me, and I learned a lot from it.”
Though Cabrera will have moved on from his playing days by the time Detroit’s young core gets another crack at a winning season, he takes pride in the fact that his drive to compete has made a lasting impression on his team.
“This game, in the end, it’s about winning,” Cabrera said. “It doesn’t matter how we play. If we win, then it’s good for us. … We had a lot of losing seasons, so we need to stop that. It’s time to think about [winning] more and being a winning team.”