Milestone for Miggy! Tiger joins 3K-hit club

April 24th, 2022

DETROIT -- Of course Miguel Cabrera's 3,000th career hit went to right field. It’s how he got here.

As the four-time batting champion, two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner stepped to the plate with a runner on first, he could feel the weight of baseball history on his shoulders, the sights of thousands of cell phones on him, waiting to see him swing.

“I couldn't even feel my legs in the first at-bat,” Cabrera said.

Said manager A.J. Hinch: “For a veteran, 39 years old, 20 years [in the Majors], done everything in the game, it's fun to watch him be nervous. I think it's awesome. I think the kid in him is realizing what it means.”

But as he saw the defense open on the right side of the infield, he came back to those same instincts to hit it the other way.

“They left me that hole open,” Cabrera said, “so I want to put the ball there. Thank God they do it. When I see the second baseman play almost behind second base, I'm like, 'OK, you have to shoot the ball there.'”

As soon as he hit the 1-1 fastball from Rockies starter and fellow Venezuelan Antonio Senzatela, he knew.

“He hits the base hit and in the second step [out of the box] he raised his arm,” Hinch said.

With that single in the first inning of Saturday's 13-0 win in the opener of a doubleheader vs. Colorado, Cabrera became the 33rd member of baseball’s 3,000-hit club and just the seventh with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

Cabrera added a two-run single up the middle later in the win, pushing him past Roberto Clemente for 32nd on the AL/NL all-time hit list. A first-inning single in the second game -- a 3-2 loss -- put him at 3,002 career hits, five away from tying Kaline for 31st.

“Roberto Clemente's one of our heroes. We wear 21 one special day in the big leagues, so that means a lot,” Cabrera said. “I can't even say; I don't have words to describe the great feeling I'm feeling right now.”

“Congratulations to Miguel Cabrera on his 3,000th career hit,” Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. “Like Tigers fans, I've been proud to witness Miggy's amazing and historic 3,000 hit and 500 home run milestones, putting him among a select few MLB legends. I thank Miguel for a career of exciting, Hall of Fame caliber play towards our objective of championship baseball for Tigers fans. Miggy has and continues to build his status as one of the greatest Tigers of all-time.”

Unlike his 500th home run last Aug. 22 at Toronto, he got to celebrate this one at home, with his mother, wife and kids in attendance.

“This one was really special for me,” he said, “because I wanted to do it here in front of my family, in front of my hometown here in Detroit. I'm happy I hit it here. I'm happy people in Detroit could see it. Hopefully I can get more hits here. Thank God.”

Cabrera’s hit was a ground ball through the right side, not an opposite-field home run like he has done so many times. Fittingly, he scored on an oppo homer from the latest of many sluggers to learn under him.

“He became a Hall of Famer by staying inside the baseball,” said , whose third Major League home run landed in the right-field seats that Cabrera has worn out over the years. “It sounds simple, but that’s what he’s done. He’ll take that single the other way, or that double in the right-center-field gap to stay on pitches. It’s definitely what I’d like to do. The commitment to his approach is second to none. …

“I’m really happy for him. He deserves it all.”

Cabrera is the third player to join the 3,000-hit club while wearing a Tigers uniform, joining Ty Cobb and Al Kaline. The latter was a mentor and friend to Cabrera for more than a decade in Detroit until he passed away in 2020. They talked about home runs, two-strike approaches, everything hitting. Cabrera teared up when remembering him earlier this week.

“He's one of my heroes,” Cabrera said. “He always said good things about me, always said good things about how I can get better. It's really sad he wasn't able to see it, because he always talked about this moment. To be able to do it, hopefully somewhere he's at right now he's happy and he's smiling.”

Cabrera’s pure hitting skill includes his trademark ability to hit to the opposite field, a skill and philosophy he has passed along to current and former teammates.

Cabrera churned out at least 180 hits in 11 of 12 seasons from 2005-16, the lone exception being an injury-shortened ‘15 campaign in which he still won a batting title. When Cabrera recorded his 2,500th hit late in the ‘16 season, he was the eighth player to reach the total by the end of his age-33 season, and the youngest to do so since Hank Aaron. Cabrera got there, he said, in part by always looking to hit like a “small guy,” as he put it.

“Short to the ball, I always tell them,” Cabrera said about talking with young hitters. “I don't care how tall or how big you are, if you're going to hit for average and power, you have to be short to the ball. That's it.”

His approach was similarly simple on the 1-1 fastball he hit Saturday with a runner on first and one out. Senzatela threw fastballs toward the outside corner on his first two pitches, but tried busting him in. Cabrera’s ground ball had an 86.4 mph exit velocity and a .220 expected batting average, according to Statcast, but had open territory through the infield.

“True story, we were on the [team] plane, I don’t know where we were going to, but he has a stack of money,” Jeimer Candelario said last week as the countdown picked up in earnest. “And he says, ‘That’s the money you make when you hit the ball the other way.’ When he said that, it made a lot of sense.”

While Austin Meadows went from first to third on the play, Rockies shortstop José Iglesias -- Cabrera’s teammate in Detroit from 2013-18 -- covered second base just long enough for time to be called. Iglesias then ran across the infield and was the first to hug Cabrera as current Tigers players ran out of the third-base dugout.

“We were talking the whole season; I've gotta wait until he comes to Comerica Park so he can see 3,000,” Cabrera said. “I said, 'I don't know, man.' He said if I get the hit in front of him, he's going to run to first base and he's going to be the first guy to hug me.”

Cabrera hugged his family behind home plate in a short ceremony before heading back to the bag, where Rockies first baseman C.J. Cron -- Cabrera’s teammate in 2020 -- pretended to check Cabrera’s heart rate.

“Anytime you stop a Major League game and both sides realize what we just witnessed, it’s something you can never, ever replicate,” teammate Robbie Grossman said. “I couldn’t imagine the pressure he was under to try to get a hit. I’m just so happy for him and his family and the country of Venezuela.”

The intersection of Cabrera’s career feat with a roster that has grown young around him has added to that effect. Cabrera’s Tigers teammates gave him an emotional tribute in the clubhouse after he reached 500 home runs. His 3,000th-hit celebration included Torkelson, the rookie first baseman who was just 3 years old when Cabrera collected his first big league hit, a walk-off home run for the Marlins on June 20, 2003.

“Seeing Miguel grow from a teenager taking batting practice on neighborhood fields in Venezuela to becoming one of the best players in baseball history has been one of the great joys of my life,” said Tigers general manager Al Avila, who signed Cabrera while working as Marlins scouting director in 1999. “His humility, passion for having fun and genuine love of the city of Detroit are completely unmatched and joining the 3,000 hit club only strengthens his standing as one of the game's all-time greats. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and we know there are many more exciting times on the horizon.”

Among the near-sellout crowd were many fans wearing the colors of Cabrera’s native Venezuela. Cabrera is also the first player from Venezuela to reach all these milestones, including the MLB record for homers and hits by a Venezuelan-born player.

“Even though we play for different teams, he’s still from Venezuela,” longtime division rival and good friend Salvador Perez of the Royals said last week. “I feel happy for him, happy for my country. I always say that Miggy represents every Venezuelan player in the big leagues. I know we play against each other a lot, and I want to win, he wants to win. But besides that, we’re from the same country, so it makes me feel proud that a guy from Venezuela is doing what he’s doing right now.”