'Surreal': Manoah deals against Miggy, Tigers

August 29th, 2021

DETROIT -- was just 5 years old when Miguel Cabrera made his Major League debut for the Marlins on June 20, 2003. Manoah, a Miami-area native, knew all about the Tigers’ slugger long before the words “future Hall of Famer” began being tossed about, and dreamed of one day pitching to him on the Major League stage.

Saturday, then, was one more goal for the 23-year-old to tick off from his bucket list, as the Blue Jays’ rookie took the mound at Comerica Park and fanned Cabrera all three times the two faced off.

“It was pretty surreal for me. It kind of still is,” Manoah said. “Obviously growing up, I wasn’t even just a fan of his: Me and my brother used to idolize [Cabrera]. It felt like every road trip … the first movie we would watch in the car was the 2003 [Marlins] World Series video.”

While facing a childhood idol was probably the highlight of Manoah’s day, he had a lot more to offer than just excitement, twirling 6 1/3 innings of four-hit ball during Toronto’s 3-2 win in 10 innings that evened the series.

Manoah ducked, dived and used the entire strike zone to befuddle Detroit’s hitters, sitting down the first seven batters he saw en route to an eight-strikeout evening that assured everyone, most of all Manoah, that he was right back on track after one bumpy outing.

“It's something rare to see right now,” said Alejandro Kirk, Manoah’s batterymate. “As a hitter, it's very difficult when you face a guy like Alek. I love the way he enjoys the game … and the way he competes.”

The one thing Manoah was missing -- the thing most Toronto pitchers have lacked lately -- was run support. Steven Matz pitched admirably in the series opener -- one run across six innings -- but was saddled with a no-decision when a late defensive flub led to a loss. During the last time the teams squared off in Toronto, Matz again was frozen from the win column when an 11th-inning throwing error cost the Blue Jays the game.

And so it was pretty fitting that when Manoah’s catcher, Kirk, hit his fourth homer of the season to break open the scoreless game in the sixth, it was Manoah who held out the Blue Jays’ coveted home run jacket in the dugout for Kirk to climb into.

Manoah fought hard for his outing from the beginning, engaging in a spirited debate with home-plate umpire Adam Beck in the third inning when the latter ruled Willi Castro had been struck on the right knee by a Manoah pitch. Castro had definitely been hit; Manoah’s argument was that Detroit’s second baseman made no attempt to get out of the way.

Manoah eventually lost that argument but avoided damage two batters later when Akil Baddoo grounded into a double play to end the threat.

Then came the seventh. Manoah’s pitch count was flirting with 100, and even though the Blue Jays were enjoying a 2-0 lead thanks to an RBI single from Bo Bichette, two consecutive Tigers reaching to open the frame prompted a mound visit as Cabrera dug into the batter’s box.

“One thing about Manoah: That’s what he wants. He wants to face the best hitters,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. “You don't teach that; he has that.

“When I saw that matchup, I said, ‘Manoah wants it.’”

Manoah got what he wanted, but could the rookie best the legend one last time?

Absolutely. Manoah nipped opposite edges of the zone with a sinker and a slider to draw two called strikes, then after offering one slider too far outside to chase, he rung up Cabrera on a 95 mph four-seamer high and tight.

“Me and my brother were just texting after the game, and he was like, ‘Man, we used to watch that docuseries literally every road trip and see that Miguel Cabrera-Roger Clemens battle, and now you’re out there, not only facing him but striking him out.’

“We had a little moment there, it was pretty surreal.”

The next hitter singled to drive in a run and end Manoah’s night. Detroit tied the game shortly afterward -- with both runs charged to the starter -- but that didn’t steal Manoah’s glow: His teammates still had a little something up their sleeves.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took second base to begin the 10th, and headed toward third as soon as he was sure Corey Dickerson’s blooper to shallow left would drop in front of Baddoo. Guerrero stomped on the gas once ball met grass, careening so quickly around third base that he nearly lost his balance. Guerrero’s head-first dive into home was a split second ahead of the throw, giving Toronto the eventual win.