Marquette, MI – April 25, 2022 – August of 2013. I am sitting in Yankee Stadium watching the greatest closer of all time work his way through a 9th inning, with a 2-run lead, one out away from another save which would make 644 for his career. In steps Miguel Cabrera with a runner on 2nd. Currently the best hitter in all of baseball, and at this point already arguably the greatest right handed hitter of all time.
I am sitting among a modest group of Tigers fans down the third base line. Watching the great Mariano Rivera in his last ever season. Yankee stadium is filled with cheers knowing their team was one out away from victory. But this was at a time where Miguel Cabrera was hitting baseballs better than maybe anyone ever, at any point in time. He was fresh off a triple crown in 2012, but in 2013 his batting average was actually .018 better, he hit the exact same amount of home runs, and drove in just 2 fewer runs. If Miguel Cabrera was up to bat, you stopped what you were doing and watched, because you knew there was potential for magic.
Rivera throws a first-pitch cutter that splits the corners of the plate just above the belt, and Cabrera takes a hefty cut late. He almost ends the game with a soft pop up in foul territory, but it just barely finds the seats on the first base side. 0-1.
Rivera throws a second pitch cutter inside and Cabrera fouls it off down the 3rd base line. 0-2. More people have walked on the moon that have scored against Mariano Rivera in the postseason. Undoubtedly the best ever at what he did – closing games. 0-2 count with 2 away? No chance for any batter. Except Miguel Cabrera.
3rd pitch is high and Miggy takes. 1-2. Rivera throws a cutter inside and Miguel once again fouls it off, but this time it’s off his own knee. He is hobbled and in immense pain. After a minute or so of walking it off, Cabrera steps back in. The very next pitch, Miggy fouls it off his own foot, on the same leg he fouled off his knee the pitch before.
At this point, Cabrera is full on limping back into the box. He then looks at a slider off the plate away for a ball. 2-2. The energy in Yankee Stadium is palpable, breath is being held by every fan. Rivera delivers. A center plate cutter just below the knees. I see Cabrera’s famously effortless swing as he had to reach down for it. I hear the crack of the bat. I see the ball flying through the air at an angle I could tell was to straight away center field. Surely it can’t have enough carry. And then, it lands into the netting beyond the wall. Both of my arms go up and all I can do is scream inaudibly.
One of the greatest at bats in the history of the game of baseball, and one of my most cherished sports memories.
Fast forward almost ten years later. The first game of an April double header at Comerica Park, a Saturday 1:10 start time. Miguel Cabrera hasn’t finished a season with an average of over .300 in 5 seasons. He hasn’t hit more than 20 home runs in the same span. But yet, here I am watching his first at bat the same way I did for all those years. And then, it happens. A hard hit grounder into right field for a single in the first inning. 3,000.
I was at the gym getting a lift in, but I stopped what I was doing. Because at this particular moment, Miguel Cabrera was back to being must-see TV. Just the 33rd player in history to record 3,000 hits at the Major League level. All I could do is put my arms up like I was back at Yankee Stadium 9 years earlier. While he isn’t the same player as he was then, he will always be my Tiger.
Here’s to you, Mr. 3000.