DETROIT -- The crowd at Comerica Park started chanting as soon as Tucker Barnhart threw out DJ LeMahieu at second base to end the top of the eighth inning.
“Miggy! Miggy! Miggy!”
The Tigers announced 17,268 tickets distributed for Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the Yankees. But as Miguel Cabrera smiled and stepped to the plate leading off the bottom of the eighth, there appeared to be more than that many fans in the ballpark. The first rows of the outfield seats were packed, including in left field underneath the sign marking Cabrera’s 2,999 career hits. Cabrera’s first career hit was a homer, as were hits 1,000 and 2,000. So it made sense to be ready for another.
For those who braved the cool temperatures, Cabrera’s three previous singles put them in the sudden position of watching history while others had to watch the broadcast in suspense, and they were relishing it.
For many Tigers, it reminded them of the atmosphere at the ballpark last August as Cabrera stood at 499 home runs for a week-long August homestand.
“The last at-bat, where he’s right on the line, 2,999, it’s a cool atmosphere,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said.
Even the Yankees, who were protecting a two-run lead and trying to clinch a series win, were appreciating it.
“His last at-bat when he had the opportunity to get there, it's a pretty interesting feeling in the ballpark,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, “like this roar leading up to it, but then this kind of silence like on every pitch was kind of pretty cool.
“Actually, Aaron Hicks said something to me coming in. He's like, 'I've never seen a crowd get like that and then kind of go silent for it.' It was kind of almost eerie.”
The crowd hushed as Clay Holmes, facing Cabrera for the second night in a row, put him in an 0-2 hole on back-to-back sliders. Cabrera declined to chase an 0-2 sinker off the plate at 96 mph, but it set up Holmes' 97 mph sinker up and in quite nicely, sending Cabrera down on a foul tip.
“Glad he didn't get it in that spot,” Boone said, “but yeah, he's knocking on the door.”
The atmosphere was electric. The end result was what left Cabrera drained afterwards.
“Right now, I’m not focused on numbers, history,” Cabrera said afterwards. “I’m focused on: We need to win games.”
This is what drives Cabrera, who turned 39 years old on Monday. He’ll get a chance at both on Thursday afternoon. While he needs one hit to become the 33rd member of the 3,000-hit club, a double would make him the third player in Major League history with 3,000 hits, 500 homers and 600 doubles.
Yes, Hinch confirmed, Cabrera will play Thursday. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. ET, and the game can be watched live on MLB.TV.
“I’d get here early,” Hinch advised. “He might hit in the first.”
More important to Cabrera at the moment, a win would avoid a series sweep to the Yankees and end a three-game losing streak.
“I hope we win,” Cabrera said.
The Tigers never led Wednesday, but Cabrera’s three-hit attack helped keep them competitive throughout, while putting him on the brink of history. Cabrera, 2-for-11 for his career off Yankees starter Luis Severino entering the night, matched his hit total in two at-bats.
Cabrera’s first hit was a second-inning slow roller to the left side that left third baseman DJ LeMahieu with no play. The 59.2 mph dribbler off Severino had an expected batting average of .080, tied for the ninth lowest on a Cabrera hit since Statcast began tracking in 2015. Cabrera busted down the line at 25.2 feet per second. On Victor Reyes’ ensuing RBI single to right, Cabrera tried to take right fielder Giancarlo Stantion by surprise, but was thrown out at third base.
“He's still got some wheels,” Severino said. “He got to first base pretty quick and he got good at-bats. He's one of the greatest. I love facing him.”
Cabrera worked a full count against Severino in the fourth inning, extending the battle by fouling off a changeup and a 97 mph fastball. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Cabrera centered a fastball on the inner half and sent a ground ball through the middle. The 89.5 mph exit velocity made it his hardest hit of the night.
Cabrera hit the first pitch he saw from former Tigers prospect Chad Green in the sixth inning. The pitch broke his bat, but the ball skipped past LeMahieu and through the left side as the crowd roared.
“As you can see with Miggy, when he puts some good at-bats together, he can put some hits together quickly,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t surprise me other than you don’t expect somebody [to get] four hits when you get to a night like this. But never doubt Miggy.”