TORONTO -- Not counting Justin Verlander’s second career no-hitter in 2011, the last time a Tiger reached a milestone number at Rogers Centre, Mike Maroth took his 20th loss in 2003, becoming the first Major Leaguer with a 20-loss season in 22 years.
The Tigers would love to put Miguel Cabrera’s 500th home run in the history books here, as would a surprising number of Tigers fans who made the trek across the border or from western Ontario to watch. But as Detroit’s recent homestand showed, it’s not simple enough to will it to be.
“He’s not trying to homer every at-bat,” manager A.J. Hinch said after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays. “If he was at 498, we wouldn’t be talking about this. He’s going to play baseball, and he’s trying to put up good at-bats.”
Jays ace Hyun Jin Ryu shut down not only Cabrera, but the Tigers’ lineup in general, delivering seven shutout innings on five hits. Randal Grichuk’s two-run homer was the only scoring off Tigers starter Wily Peralta, who did his part to keep the Tigers close. Free-agent-to-be middle infielder Marcus Semien provided the final margin with his 30th homer of the year, a 399-foot drive down the left-field line off Erasmo Ramirez in the eighth.
Considering Ryu induced 11 ground-ball outs and allowed virtually nothing to be elevated, it was a rough day for any Tiger to try to take a shot at the symmetric depths of Rogers Centre. For Cabrera, a .230 career hitter at Rogers Centre with seven home runs in 39 games entering the day, it was particularly rough. Much like former Tiger Robbie Ray a day earlier, Ryu didn’t allow the former Triple Crown winner much. However, Cabrera’s at-bats were better. His second-inning ground ball came on a 2-0 pitch. His fourth-inning ground ball off an 0-2 pitch was actually the hardest-hit ball by either team in the game, but right to shortstop Bo Bichette to start an inning-ending double play.
“Really, really good command,” said center fielder and leadoff hitter Derek Hill, who went 1-for-3 with a single against Ryu. “He could throw any pitch wherever he wanted today. So just gotta tip the cap and keep battling out there.”
Cabrera went to the plate in the seventh inning looking to start a rally and drew a leadoff walk, swinging once in six pitches but not chasing a heavy diet of Ryu pitches off the outside corner. He had one more chance with two outs in the ninth against Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano, whose 99 mph fastball set up a nasty 91 mph slider that dove off the plate to strike out Cabrera for a second consecutive game.
That was it for Cabrera in his eighth game over 10 days since hitting his 499th home run last week in Baltimore. He’s 4-for-29 with a double, four RBIs and four walks in that stretch. He’s hitless in his last 11 at-bats, reaching on an error Thursday and his walk Saturday.
“He smoked the ball to the shortstop today,” Hinch said. “We’ll take singles, doubles. We’ll celebrate the next homer he hits, but we’re not all waiting around for him to hit. We’re trying to win. We’re trying to beat the Blue Jays, and obviously Miggy can be a big part of that by putting up good at-bats.”
Though it seems like an endless wait, it isn’t unprecedented among the 27 current members of MLB’s 500-homer club. Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx and Harmon Killebrew went 20 and 16 days, respectively, between their 499th and 500th home runs. Mickey Mantle went 11 days, and Alex Rodriguez went 10. Gary Sheffield hit his 498th and 499th home runs on the same day in the final weekend of the 2008 season, playing for the Tigers at Tampa Bay, then had to wait until the 10th game of the following season while playing for the Mets.
Cabrera will get another chance Sunday, when he’s expected to DH again. He’ll be facing Blue Jays starter Steven Matz for the first time in a regular-season matchup.
Things get trickier next week, when the Tigers lose the DH slot for a two-game Interleague series in St. Louis. Cabrera is expected to start Tuesday’s series opener at first base but will be on the bench for pinch-hit availability in Wednesday’s series finale, according to Hinch.