Cabrera and the Yankees have it right

Miguel Cabrera

A free eighth-inning pass after going 0-for-3 to that point Thursday outraged Tiger fans far more than it outraged Miguel Cabrera to remain one knock short of 3,000.

I don’t want to pour any more gasoline onto the fire of Tiger fan’s outrage, but Yankee manager Aaron Boone did the absolute right thing Thursday afternoon. And it wasn’t as though Miguel Cabrera lacked for shots at his 3,000th lifetime hit.

Boone ordered Cabrera walked on the house in the bottom of the eighth rather than risk the righthanded-hitting Cabrera clobbering his lefthanded relief pitcher Lucas Luetge with runners on second and third, two outs, and the Tigers ahead a mere 1-0.

Now, the move backfired, sort of; Austin Meadows ripped a two-run double to make it 3-0. So think of it as the Tigers’ revenge if you wish. But since when is the other guy “entitled” to make history on your dollar? Since when are you just supposed to be nice guys and let him make his history when he might put a game a little further out of reach against you?

Cabrera was 0-for-3 on the day when his eighth-inning plate appearance approached. He didn’t exactly lack for chances to plant number 3,000 somewhere in Comerica Park. He knew it. Understandably, the Comerica crowd wanted history. Understandably, too, the Yankees wanted to come back and win a baseball game.

But a Hall of Famer is more aware of the big picture than the fans booing the Yankees lustily for ordering the free pass before he could even check in at the plate. He simply dropped his bat in the on-deck circle and make the trek to first base without so much as a wince. He waited until he reached the pad to have a word with or toward Boone.

To which Boone replied, perhaps in good humour, “Miggy was jawing at me after I called for the walk. I told him we’re even. He cost me a World Series in 2003, so now he can sleep on 2,999.” (The reference was to Cabrera then being a member of the Marlins who beat the Yankees in six in that Series—into which Boone’s legendary ALCS-winning home run put the Yankees in the first place.)

Tonight will be only the second night Cabrera sleeps on 2,999. After pulling up that short following Wednesday’s play, during which he went 3-for-4 to get there in the first place, he purred, “Who the [fornicate] cares? We lost. When has this game ever been about individual accomplishments?”

Well, fair play. Baseball has been as much about individual feats as team victories since the game was born, more or less. Cabrera may downplay his failure to reach 3,000 Wednesday—and try calming the Comerica crowd down after the free pass and the eventual Tiger win today—but he can’t really be foolish enough to deny that particular feats resonate as deeply as World Series rings.

If he’s rejecting the idea that individual accomplishment is not something to which a player is “entitled,” good for him and better for the game. There’s nothing in the written rules, and little enough unwritten in the Sacred Unwritten Rules, that says a team’s supposed to roll over and play dead so the other guy can reach a landmark.

But there’s plenty on the ethical side that says you’re supposed to achieve your milestones in honest, unmanipulated competition. Including the part that says the other guys have just as much right to try to beat you as you have to try to beat them, history be damned for the moment.

Few teams are quite as conscious or respectful of history and milestones as the Yankees. But they’re also conscious of the season at hand. They took the chance on a lefthander-lefthander matchup offering the best chance to escape the inning unscathed and try once more for victory.

Meadows and thus the Tigers turned out the winners there, fair and square. The Yankees also had a shot at closing the gap and even tying the game in the top of the ninth, when Joey Gallo beat out an infield hit with one out, until Isiah Kiner-Falefa dialed Area Code 6-4-3 for the side and the game.

The Yankees made a smart move and it backfired. That, too, can happen. If Tiger fans want to call it the vengeance of the baseball gods, they’re, ahem, entitled to that. But they shouldn’t condemn the Yankees for putting honest competition and a chance to come back and win ahead of history.

Tiger fans should also heed manager A.J. Hinch’s counsel. “Boonie’s obligation is to his own team and their chances of winning,” Hinch said postgame. “He had the matchup behind Miggy that he wanted. So you could see it coming. I know our fans responded accordingly, but I totally get it.” That’s called being a gracious winner.

Cabrera’s sound counsel, however crudely expressed, is: We still won, and tomorrow’s another day. Especially with the Tigers still at home for this weekend, hosting the Rockies. Cabrera has three more games in front of the home audience to plant number 3,000, fair and square, in honest competition.

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