DETROIT -- No, Miguel Cabrera did not get any closer to the 3,000-hit or 500-homer clubs. He did, however, get the Tigers a step closer to .500.
In the end, that team success is still more important to him than individual milestones.
“Forget about the milestones, forget about the numbers, and try to play better. That’s the bottom line,” he said a few days ago.
While Cabrera gave the number-changers a day off for his home run (still at 497) and hit (still 2,942) counter on the left-field concourse, he gave Orioles pitchers fits in a 6-2 win at Comerica Park. The four-game series split puts the Tigers back to six games under .500 heading into a big week with six games against the Red Sox and Cleveland, the first teams with winning records to face the Tigers since July 4. Detroit went 13-11 in a four-week stretch against sub-.500 teams, missing some opportunities but capitalizing on others.
The Tigers will have to be productive in all phases of their game to continue their momentum from three consecutive winning months. A productive Cabrera is a big factor in that.
Cabrera saw 23 pitches Sunday and didn't swing at any of them, same as he did against 14 pitches Saturday and 16 pitches on Friday. He hasn’t swung at and missed a ball in his last 62 pitches since his second plate appearance of the O’s series, a third-inning walk against Alexander Wells on Thursday that preceded his two home runs. He hasn’t struck out, swinging or looking, since his first at-bat last Monday night against Michael Pineda at Target Field. His five consecutive games without a strikeout mark his longest streak since going seven straight games without a strikeout to close out last August. Until this, his longest streak this season was three games.
“At this point, I don’t think anything he does surprises me,” teammate Robbie Grossman said. “He is just an unbelievable player.”
That his current streak comes amid the pressure of home run and hit milestones, two events that can understandably lead to aggressive swings, says a lot about Cabrera, who said Friday he gets what Olympic gymnast Simone Biles is feeling with pressure.
“I understand what she’s going through,” Cabrera said. “That mental part is a big part of the game. You try to do something to prove who you are, or to prove what you’re doing your whole career, and you lose your focus. You lose something, because you don’t play like that. You go out there and do it. You don’t try to do it. You go out there and play hard and try to see something happen.”
Said manager A.J. Hinch: “He’s a really, really focused hitter at this point. He’s not necessarily chasing numbers. And we all want it to happen. We all want it to happen at home. But Miggy, of all people, is going to be able to keep the noise out of his head and go out and compete.”
On a day when the Tigers didn’t do much against longtime farmhand Spenser Watkins, Cabrera had a pair of critical at-bats. His first-inning walk helped build a two-out rally that culminated in Eric Haase’s two-run double off the center-field wall. The three-run inning answered two RBI doubles from the O’s in the top half of the inning, allowing Detroit starter Tyler Alexander to take the mound for the second inning with a 3-2 lead.
Three of Cabrera’s four plate appearances went to three-ball counts. The other was a six-pitch battle with Watkins that ended in a popout to end the third. He stepped to the plate in the sixth inning with Grossman on third following a one-out triple.
Watkins, not a strikeout pitcher, seemingly tried to induce a ball on the ground. After fouling off a first-pitch fastball over the plate, Cabrera declined to chase, working a 3-1 count. With a choice of putting Cabrera on base to set up a double play or going after him, Watkins threw a cutter just off the corner. It was off the plate, but close enough for the opposite-field swing that Cabrera has been working on for the last couple of weeks and producing with for the last several days.
Cabrera’s fly ball to right on Watkins’ final pitch wasn’t going to carry out, but it was deep enough to score Grossman from third for a 4-2 lead as Watkins shouted into his glove. It was a pragmatic piece of hitting from a hitter with milestones literally looming over the ballpark.
Cabrera stepped back up an inning later with runners on first and second and saw a heavy dose of sliders from Shaun Anderson. Again, he stayed in the strike zone, fouling off three and declining to chase four, drawing his second walk.
Cabrera, lifted for pinch-runner Victor Reyes, received an ovation on his way back to the dugout.
“He was really good this series,” Hinch said. “The sac fly down the line, the good walk, there was definitely quality at-bats here.”