3,000 hits, and one for the game’s integrity

Miguel Cabrera

Miggy Stardust standing alone at first base after becoming baseball’s only 3,000-hit/500-home run/Triple Crown winning player Saturday afternoon.

Well, it proved too much to ask that Miguel Cabrera should get number 3,000 by launching one over the fences in Comerica Park Saturday afternoon. Sometimes the Elysian Fields insist that drama takes an inning off. But he didn’t wait long for the big knock, either. A sharply-cued single is equal to a home run in the hit total.

With Robbie Grossman aboard with a leadoff single in the bottom of the first, Cabrera shot a 1-1 fastball from Rockies pitcher Antonio Senzatela through the right side of the infield as if he’d lined up a money shot in a pool tournament. The bedlam began before he had a chance to hold up at first.

The Comerica audience chanted and cheered down upon him from just about the moment he left the batter’s box. He raised his fist at first as the ballpark scoreboard gave him the fireworks equivalent of a 21-gun salute. Former teammate José Iglesias, now a Rockie, ambled over to give him a bear hug—and the ball he’d just hit into history.

The Tigers poured out of their dugout to congratulate their man. His wife, his son, his daughter, and his mother gave and received hugs with him behind the plate while time was still in effect. Who says it wasn’t worth the extra day’s wait?

Cabrera barely had time to settle back in at first base when Jeimer Candelario struck out but Jonathan Schoop pushed him to second and Austin Meadows (safe on a fielder’s choice) home with an infield hit, and Spencer Torkelson—who’s taken first base over while Cabrera settles in strictly as a designated hitter—hit Senzatela’s first pitch to him into the right field seats.

Just like that, the Tigers showed they knew how to celebrate Miggy Stardust’s big knock the right ways. Then, after Grossman singled home a fifth run in the fourth, the big puddy tats ramped up the party with two outs in the sixth, and the guest of honour struck again, his two-run single being sandwiched between a pair of RBI singles, including Candelario pushing Meadows home on another infield hit.

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch gave Cabrera the rest of the game off, and his mates treated him to another two-out four-run inning in the seventh, this time Meadows singling home a pair, Candelario drawing a bases-loaded walk, and Schoop singling Meadows home. The Tiger bullpen took care of the rest, even if Angel De Jesus had to claw his way out of a self-inflicted bases-loaded jam to seal the 13-0 win.

That was the opener of a doubleheader in which the Rockies threatened to shut the Tigers out in the nightcap until Meadows hit a two-out, two-run triple off Rockies reliever Alex Colome. But Colome struck pinch hitter Harold Castro out swinging on three straight cutters to nail the 3-2 Rockies win.

Cabrera picked up another base hit in the nightcap’s bottom of the first to set first and third up for Candelario, who struck out swinging before Meadows forced the guest of honour at second for the side. But nothing could spoil Cabrera’s party, not even a doubleheader split. Nothing could spoil him becoming the first man ever to nail 3,000+ hits, 500+ home runs, and win a Triple Crown.

Not even the Comerica crowd booing wrongly when the Yankees ordered him walked in the bottom of the eighth Thursday, so their lefthanded reliever Lucas Luetge could have a more favourable matchup with the lefthanded-hitting Meadows.

That debate poured into the following two days, even as the Tigers and the Rockies were rained out of playing Friday night. It was a foolish debate, in which the booing Tiger fans proved nothing more than that they’re not averse to a little tanking—when it might involve one of their own getting the ideal matchup to get the big knock after he’d gone 0-for-3 thus far on that day.

Down 1-0, Yankee manager Aaron Boone could have been accused of a little tanking himself if he’d let Luetge pitch to the righthanded Cabrera, whose splits show he manhandles pitching from both sides but is that much better against the portsiders, and handed Cabrera the immediate advantage going in.

Boone had even a slight a chance to hold those Tigers and keep his Yankees within simple reach of overcoming and winning. History be damned, he took it. And even if the lefthanded-swinging Meadows did wreck the maneuver promptly with a two-run double, it happened just as honestly as the free pass to Cabrera occurred.

“What a shame and not a good call by the opposing team,” sniffed one social media denizen about the Yankees, a sentiment expressed by only a few too many thousand from the moment Cabrera took his base that day. “Just let him have his victory at home for the fans. What a shame.”

Just “let” him have his victory?

No—the shame would have been if the Yankees let Cabrera have one more chance to  help beat them even with an historic hit providing a little extra Tiger insurance. The game’s integrity includes especially that everyone present and playing makes an honest effort to compete and win. That’s what the Yankees did in that moment.

Cabrera may be aging, but he’s still a formidable bat. A Hall of Famer whose age is only too pronounced but whose spirit and love of the game hasn’t been eroded out of its career-long presence is too smart not to know the Yankees weren’t about to let him bury them alive if they could help it.

So he waited an extra day or two to swing into the history books. The only thing wrong Saturday was probably that it couldn’t have been a home run. It’s happened before when baseball competition required precedence over baseball history. It can happen again with the next significant milestone approached by the next significant player. For integrity’s sake, we should hope that the participants play the game right then, too, even if it means history waiting an extra day or two.

The Comerica Park racket after Cabrera pulled up at first in the first should tell you one historic swing wasn’t just worth the wait, it was good for baseball, the Tigers, and Miggy Stardust. And in that order.

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