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Miggy recaptures youth with tiebreaking slam

Cabrera's first grand slam since 2013 lifts Tigers past Snell, Rays
@beckjason
June 5, 2019

DETROIT -- Hours after Miguel Cabrera had to acknowledge that age has caught up with him, he turned back the clock. Cabrera's gait around the bases was slow and deliberate, the stiffness evident in the right knee. The swing was basically all arms. This is his reality now, as he

DETROIT -- Hours after Miguel Cabrera had to acknowledge that age has caught up with him, he turned back the clock.

Cabrera's gait around the bases was slow and deliberate, the stiffness evident in the right knee. The swing was basically all arms. This is his reality now, as he acknowledged Tuesday afternoon that he’s paying the price at age 36 for playing through injuries during his years of batting races and World Series chases.

When that slow, pained trot is circling the bases on a grand slam, though, Cabrera doesn’t seem so old, his swing bringing back memories of those days when he was baseball’s most feared hitter. As he finally crossed home plate Tuesday night, having driven a curveball over the left-field fence off reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, he received a standing ovation from the crowd at Comerica Park. A few steps later, he received a high five from longtime teammate Nicholas Castellanos, as well as hugs in the dugout.

Box score

It was not only an amazing moment, but a critical one, turning the game in the Tigers’ 9-6 win over the Rays. Cabrera's grand slam was his first since June 1, 2013, when Avisail Garcia was a teammate he drove in rather than an opponent watching from the opposite dugout.

“You could see the smile on his face, how good it felt for him,” catcher Grayson Greiner said. “He’s our guy, so we just wanted to get behind him and celebrate that moment.”

Cabrera left quickly after the game, but his teammates might have been more excited than he was.

“That was sick,” rookie left fielder Christin Stewart said. “That was very sick. I don’t know how to describe it. It was pretty awesome.”

Said starting pitcher Ryan Carpenter: “I think the whole dugout erupted. That got everyone feeling good. I think it just boosted everyone.”

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It was just Cabrera's third home run of the year but the 468th of his career, tying him with Hall of Famer Chipper Jones for 34th on Major League Baseball’s all-time list. He had three hits to give him 2,734, passing Tony Perez for 59th. As long as Cabrera can play, the milestones will continue to fall. For that, however, he’s at the mercy of his balky knee, which kept him out of the Tigers’ previous two games last weekend in Atlanta.

“I mean, we're just literally sitting here watching a little bit of history,” said Stewart, who grew up in Georgia as a Braves fan idolizing Jones.

Back in the DH slot on Tuesday, Cabrera took out his frustrations with Father Time on the 26-year-old Snell, who posted 21 wins with a 1.89 ERA and 221 strikeouts last year. He hadn’t been much easier to hit this season, but the Tigers took advantage of his off night Tuesday.

Snell went after Cabrera in the opening inning with two outs, a full count, first base open and Brandon Dixon on deck, a decision that would’ve been different just a couple of years ago. Cabrera flashed his opposite-field swing to connect with Snell’s 97 mph fastball, bouncing a line drive past right fielder Guillermo Heredia and slowly rumbling into second base with an RBI double.

“Miggy’s always been able to hit. You know it and I know it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with being a mission. He’s going out there against a good pitcher, a really good pitcher, and that’s what great hitters do. They hit good pitchers.”

It was Detroit’s lone run off Snell until JaCoby Jones’ one-out single began a string of five consecutive Tigers to reach base safely in the fifth. The first four went a base at a time -- Niko Goodrum on an infield single, Stewart with an opposite-field grounder against the shift and Castellanos on a walk.

Up came Cabrera, who fell into an 0-2 count but fouled off a curveball at his shoe tops to stay alive. After a changeup off the plate, Snell went back to the curveball but didn’t bury it nearly as well.

Cabrera’s swing has been mostly arms lately, his knees leaving him struggling to generate the lower-body power of old. His swing in this case looked more like a golf shot. As Cabrera extended his arms at the breaking ball, though, he had enough pull power for a 102 mph exit velocity, carrying it over the fence.

For an announced crowd of 15,420, as well an entire Tigers dugout, there was an appreciation, and not just for Detroit’s first home win since May 8.

“We were all geeked,” Stewart said. “The energy definitely shifted all the way to us. That was a big inning. We scored five runs, strung some hits together as a team off of Snell and got him out of the game. That was the big hit.”

With Cabrera’s knee, it’s hard to tell how many more moments like this he’ll have. Tuesday, from start to finish, was a reminder that they’re worth savoring.

“He’s a Hall of Famer, and I’m just going to enjoy watching him play,” Gardenhire said. “And that’s what I did tonight. He had a really good night out there.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.