TORONTO -- Considering how many home runs Miguel Cabrera sent screaming to the opposite field over 19 seasons, his 500th career homer seemed like a snapshot of his incredible career.
"I threw a changeup there and it was pretty far outside," said Blue Jays starter Steven Matz, the 345th MLB pitcher Cabrera has taken deep. "It wasn’t even a strike."
It was a fitting setup. So was the situation.
“It was nice timing, because that tied the game right there,” Cabrera said after the Tigers’ 5-3 win in 11 innings at Rogers Centre on Sunday. “That was big for us because we came in today trying to win the series.”
Indeed, one of the first things Cabrera said after rounding the bases was, "Let’s go." He didn’t want his home run to be a consolation prize on a road trip.
And as the Tigers celebrated in the clubhouse following an exhausting 11-inning victory, Cabrera -- the 28th member of Major League Baseball’s 500-homer club -- thanked his team.
“He just thanked us for all the support,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He wanted this for us as much as we wanted it for him.”
Cabrera became the first player to reach 500 homers since David Ortiz in 2015, and the first player ever to reach the mark as a Tiger. He’s the first Venezuelan-born player to get there, and the sixth player born outside the United States. The latter list includes Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez.
The Tigers plan to honor Cabrera’s accomplishment at Comerica Park with a ceremony on Friday, Sept. 24. Their series opener against the Royals has been dubbed “Miggy Celebration Day.”
“Congratulations Miguel Cabrera on your 500th career home run,” Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. “As the first player in the 121-year history of the Detroit Tigers to accomplish this amazing feat, our organization is excited, proud and thrilled to join you in celebrating this historic moment. We thank you for the excitement you have brought to the game and the memories and joy you have brought to our fans. And all of us are rooting for you in the chase for your next milestone, 3,000 hits!”
What looked not that long ago like a milestone that would take close to a full season for Cabrera to reach ended up falling with six weeks to spare. The chase for that last home run had been the story of the Tigers’ last homestand, drawing some of their largest crowds of the season and packing the right-field seats with fans hoping to catch one of Cabrera’s classic opposite-field homers. He just missed hitting it Wednesday night, sending a fly ball to the right-field warning track off Angels closer Raisel Iglesias.
"Obviously he's a great hitter and one of the greatest of all-time," Shohei Ohtani said after that game. "And he's a wonderful person when I've dealt with him. He's so respected in the baseball world, it would've been OK if I gave up his 500th homer. Personally, I want to see it happen soon."
Cabrera admitted he felt the pressure. He went eight homerless games after hitting his 499th career homer in Baltimore, and he was 4-for-31 since that drive when he stepped to the plate Sunday with one out in the sixth and a 1-0 Detroit deficit.
“Last week in Detroit was tough. It was the first time in five, six years I see the crowd like that excited with a lot of energy,” he said. “It was nice to see a lot of fans. It was nice to see energy back in Comerica Park. There were a lot of things going on in my mind, because I want to do it in Detroit. But it's tough to hit home runs over there.”
Matz started him off with a pair of 94 mph sinkers. With a 1-1 count, he tried to change speeds and get Cabrera chasing a changeup off the plate. But Cabrera’s opposite-field swing -- the swing he has been working on all year to try to ingrain, the swing he said was inconsistent -- connected.
“When he hit the ball, I knew that something special is about to happen,” said Jeimer Candelario, who was on deck. “History is about to happen. And for me to be a part of that is a blessing.”
Cabrera wasn’t so confident.
“No, I don't think so,” Cabrera said. “When I hit it, I say, 'Come on, get up, get up,' something like that. But I play at Comerica, so every fly ball to that part is out. I'm glad I hit that fly ball here, because if I hit it at Comerica Park, it's going to be two outs.”
Statcast backs him up: The ball would’ve been out of 27 of 30 MLB ballparks, with Comerica Park as one of the exceptions.
The 400-foot drive just cleared the fence and landed in the underbelly of Rogers Centre, where Tigers bullpen catcher Tim Remes quickly retrieved it. It was Cabrera’s first home run in Toronto since Sept. 9, 2017.
“We all feel the relief,” Candelario said. “We all wanted it so bad. He deserved it. He worked really, really hard for it. He wanted it so bad, and he wanted to contribute to help the team win.”
Said Hinch: “It tied the game. It came in a pivotal moment, and it came in a team win. You couldn't have scripted it much better. Obviously we wish he could've done it in front of our 35,000-40,000 screaming fans, but we know they were watching.”
If Cabrera couldn’t hit his milestone homer at Comerica Park, or close to his home in Miami, he couldn’t have done it in a more friendly place than Toronto. Not even an open roof could quiet the loud ovation he received, followed by a curtain call. Some of it came from Tigers fans from western Ontario and other parts of Canada who haven’t been able to see the team in person for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rest came from Blue Jays fans with an appreciation for history.
Cabrera, grateful as much for the reception as for the pressure of the pursuit being over, bowed to the fans in return.
“I do want to thank the Toronto fans,” Hinch said. “We had some Tiger fans in attendance. We had the Blue Jays fans. Remarkable reaction to that. And Steven Matz, obviously uncomfortable on the mound, but waiting a few minutes. Charlie Montoyo, their manager, giving us that moment. It was really cool. Giving him that curtain call on the road again signifies exactly how cool it was, and I tip my cap to those people on the other side that handled it with a lot of dignity.”
The homer was also his 2,955th career hit, leading into his next milestone chase. With 36 games left in the Tigers’ season, he would need to go on a tear to become the first player in Major League history to record his 500th home run and 3,000th hit in the same season. But with the home run pressure off his shoulders, he’s capable of pure hitting.
“He’s a machine. He’s a hit machine,” Candelario said. “He’s going to hit. I know that 3,000 will come, sooner than later. We’ll just continue working really hard, and I know he wants us to support him the same way and have fun. I know he’s going to do his thing.”
Whether it’s this season or next, home or road -- the Tigers open next season with a West Coast trip -- the celebration should be epic. Sunday provided a preview.
“He was emotional about it,” Hinch said. “The dugout exploded. What a big moment for us to get an opportunity to be a part of.”