DETROIT -- As the Astros cruised to a 17-4 win over the Tigers on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park, two living legends -- MVP winners, longtime teammates, extremely likely Hall of Famers and perhaps the best hitter and pitcher of their generation -- faced each other for the final time.
As Cabrera strode to the plate in the second inning, he and Verlander tipped their hats to each other. Then Verlander struck Cabrera out looking on a curve. In the third, Cabrera fouled off four pitches before grounding into a forceout. In the fifth, with two outs and Cabrera due up next, Verlander instead got the out he needed, ending his outing with Cabrera in the on-deck circle en route to earning his 254th career win. The Astros are one game back of the first-place Mariners in the AL West and are tied with the Rangers for second place.
“Getting a second to tip my cap to Miggy before we go at it was pretty cool,” Verlander said. “I love that guy, and I just have so much respect for him. I’m glad [Tigers manager] A.J. [Hinch] put him in the lineup. I’m glad we had that moment.”
In the eighth, long after Verlander had departed, Cabrera slugged a three-run homer, No. 510 of his career. He passed Gary Sheffield for sole possession of 26th place in AL/NL history with that homer, increasing his career RBI total to 1,871.
“You’re rooting for your guys in your clubhouse, obviously,” Verlander said. “Any time you get to witness history, though, is something special, and every time Miggy gets a hit or hits a home run, it’s a piece of history.”
It was a matchup of a kind that’s not often seen. Teammates with the Tigers from 2008-17, Verlander brought his 253 wins, three Cy Young Awards, pitching Triple Crown and MVP Award to the mound against Cabrera’s 509 home runs, 3,150 hits, two MVPs, offensive Triple Crown and .307 career batting average. The pair has a combined age of 80 years and 319 days, and a combined bWAR of 147.5. Together, they’ve played 39 seasons and made 21 All-Star Games.
Head-to-head, Verlander has gotten the better of the matchup; Cabrera is 0-for-5 against him with two strikeouts. Of course, Verlander managed to avoid facing Cabrera during his most dangerous years; from 2008-17, when they were teammates until Verlander was traded to the Astros at the ‘17 Deadline, Cabrera batted .319/.398/.558 with 324 home runs.
“He’s one of the top right-handed hitters of all time,” manager Dusty Baker said. “One of the top RBI guys of all time. … This guy has done everything. You’ve got batting average, you’ve got home runs, you’ve got RBIs, you’ve got longevity -- he’s played until he’s 40.”
Verlander echoed the sentiment.
“His natural talent was always something that stood out,” he said. “His right-handed swing is one of the most pure right-handed swings in the history of baseball. … There’s just so many things, but [I was] just taken aback by his raw ability from the second I played with him.”
Baker compared watching Verlander face Cabrera to watching Barry Bonds battle Pedro Martinez, or looking on as Hank Aaron faced off against Bob Gibson. Baker would know, as he played with Aaron on the Braves from 1968-74.
“History may judge it that way,” he said. “When you’re the person doing it, though, I don’t think you quite think about it like that.”
As the all-timers squared off, meanwhile, the Astros took the series behind home runs from Kyle Tucker, Mauricio Dubón, Martín Maldonado and Yainer Diaz. Houston scored three early runs, then broke out for four in the seventh and seven in the eighth.
“We swung the bats today,” Baker said.
And yet, the key moment in the game came all the way back in the second, before the Astros had scored and before Cabrera had even seen a pitch.
“This is like, baseball aside,” Verlander said. “The cool moment between him and I is the acknowledgement, the hat tip from me to him and him to me. … Those moments don’t happen too often.
“You’ve got two guys who have played together as long as he and I have, and have our careers, and you have a moment where everybody knows it’s Miggy’s last season. ... A hat tip says a million things, and I think we all know what I said.”