DETROIT -- A thousand games at Comerica Park? Miguel Cabrera can’t believe it, either.
“Awesome,” Cabrera said before Sunday’s 5-2 Tigers win over the Twins. “That’s amazing.”
So maybe it was in that moment of awe that Cabrera decided to turn the clock back for a moment and relive his younger, faster years. When he noticed Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers struggling to gather a pitch in the dirt from starter Simeon Woods Richardson, Cabrera not only went from first to second, he took off again for third. When Jonathan Schoop followed with a fly ball to medium-depth left field, Cabrera took off for home, trying to catch Twins left fielder Jake Cave off-guard for a first-inning sacrifice fly and an add-on run.
At first glance, plate umpire Shane Livensparger ruled that Cabrera beat Jeffers’ tag attempt. Replay found that Jeffers indeed tagged Cabrera before he crossed the plate. Still, it was a notable piece of baserunning that reflects the way Cabrera is feeling as the season winds down.
“His mind isn't 39, 40. It's his body,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “So I think sometimes he has to remind himself that Father Time might win this one. But I love the aggressiveness.”
Once the season ends Wednesday, the focus will turn to Cabrera putting himself in a position to feel healthy and productive not just when next season begins, but as it unfolds. It’s not simply a matter of rest for his balky knee and back, but also a matter of improvement.
“I think we have a really good idea what we're going to do,” Cabrera said Sunday morning. “I think we have a plan with that. I'm going to take care of my knee and my back. Hopefully I can stay strong for next season and finish strong.”
Cabrera finished the home portion of his 20th Major League season with a strong effort at the bookends. His final Comerica Park at-bat of the season pitted him against a familiar face in Twins reliever and former Tigers teammate Michael Fulmer, who put him in an 0-2 hole. The two battled for six pitches before Cabrera sent a single up the middle for his 3,086th career hit, scoring Akil Baddoo for his 1,846th career RBI.
Cabrera will head into the Tigers’ season-ending series at Seattle three hits shy of Ichiro Suzuki for 23rd on MLB’s all-time hits leaderboard. His 507 home runs place him two shy of former Tigers teammate Gary Sheffield for 26th all-time. Cabrera is expected to play two of Detroit’s four games in Seattle.
Cabrera said his meeting earlier in the week with incoming president of baseball operations Scott Harris went well. While they didn’t get into details about Harris’ long-term vision for the roster, they had a healthy discussion about his role in it and how he can improve his individual performance and the team next season.
“We had a good conversation,” he said. “We talked about next year. Hopefully we can do better next year and hopefully I can finish my career good.”
To find that strong finish, he’s going to tweak his offseason workouts to focus on mitigating the wear and tear on his back. Surgery isn’t an option, since it wouldn’t make a meaningful difference. Rest will help for Opening Day, but it won’t be an option once the season begins. He has worked in recent offseasons on strengthening and agility. Now, it’s a matter of mobility.
Don’t expect to see Cabrera on a yoga mat anytime soon, but he’ll be taking similar concepts into his plan.
“Stretching,” he said. “I think I have to do more mobility exercises and try to be more flexible and move better. There's a lot of exercises you can do to be more flexible.”
The more Cabrera can do that, the more he can not just on stay on the field, but stick with his best swing, whether that involves slashing line drives into the gaps or trying to be opportunistic with pull power. The second-half numbers haven’t been pretty, including a .162 average and .479 OPS after the All-Star break. But if Cabrera can stay healthy enough to maintain his first-half form, he can be productive on a better team.
The Tigers have offensive potential, he believes. If they can keep their pitching healthy, they can make an improvement.
“I just want to finish my career here and try to help the team to be a contender again, try to have a chance to play in October,” Cabrera said.