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.

Brothers in baseball and bereavement

Jose Iglesias, Freddie Freeman

Iglesias mourned his father after his first hit of the season Friday; Freeman hugged and empathised with him.

José Iglesias signed with the Rockies in March. For the first ten seasons of his career, his father, Candelario, who’d played professionally in Cuba, saw over three thousand of his plate appearances. The elder Iglesias died a few weeks before Opening Day; the son still grieves even as he plays the game father and son loved together.

The son tagged his first base hit against Dodgers starter Walker Buehler in the bottom of the second Friday. He couldn’t fight his emotion as he arrived, nor could he resist a gesture heavenward. And the Dodgers’ new first baseman, Freddie Freeman, wouldn’t let him fight or resist either.

Freeman asked what was wrong. The Rockies shortstop acknowledged his grief over losing his father. Freeman—the defending World Series MVP with last year’s Braves, who has never been shy about his own grief following his mother’s death when he was ten—hugged Iglesias by his head, leaned it against his shoulder a moment, then gave him a few fraternal pats on the shoulder and head before play continued.

Iglesias had just knocked a run home to stake the Rockies to an early 2-0 lead (he went 1-for-4 on the day) that would turn into a 5-3 Dodgers win, with no small help from Freeman, who struck out, was hit by a pitch, then had a hand in the Dodgers’ five-run fourth by walking, going first to third on an RBI base hit, and scoring on a wild pitch, before he beat out an infield hit in the sixth (he was stranded) and looking at a third strike in the eighth.

But in the second inning, Freeman and Iglesias weren’t opponents but brothers in parental bereavement. “There’s nothing harder than losing a parent,” Freeman said to Iglesias before the game resumed.

“He was everything to me,” Iglesias said of the father who’d once played shortstop, too,  but would come home to play ball with his son after long post-baseball days labouring in a factory for $10 a day in Castro’s Cuba. [The younger Iglesias defected in 2008.] “His dream was to watch me in the big leagues. He told me once ‘If I can watch you play for one day, I’ll be good to go after that.’ He watched me play for ten years . . . he’s in a better place now, watching me play every day.”

“We’ll never know what any of us are going through in life,” Freeman told reporters postgame.

I think it just kind of reminds you to just have some compassion, some humility, and just be kind to others. That’s what’s so special about baseball too is you get to be around so many great people and so many people that just care about and love the game of baseball. His father was shining down on him to be able to get that single.

“You never forget your dad. All I could do is give him a hug. You know, when you lose a parent, all you can do is just give that person a hug. There are no words. No word is really going to be enough. Just let that person know you care about him.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Iglesias said, “beyond baseball, we’re human beings. That was very nice of Freddie.”

Freeman’s mother, Rosemary, died of melanoma in 2000. The son who was ten at that time can never forget climbing aboard her hospital bed despite his size for his age just to stay close to her, believing to his ten-year-old soul that she’d recover.

“Her pain was a twenty out on a scale of ten and she never said one word,” Freeman told ESPN’s Buster Olney for a profile a year ago. “She let us crawl in bed and she tried to be as much as she could to us, even though she had to lay there. And she was more than that, a mom, even in those times. We obviously thought she was going to beat it . . . She did everything she could to beat that disease.”

So Freeman eventually held on to his father. Now, an opponent pulling up to first base let his grief over his father’s death, over his father no longer seeing him play except from a heavenly perch, overcome him. Freeman more than most understands such loss, no matter what age parental bereavement comes, and cares. He cares enough not to give a damn who’d object to his comforting a stricken opponent.

“We have different uniforms on,” Freeman said, “but you take the uniforms off and we’re all friends in this game. That’s the key. That’s the beauty of this sport. We all switch teams throughout our careers so you get to come across a lot of amazing people. From the looks of it, [Iglesias’s] family loves baseball just as much as we do, so I’m just glad to be able to be a part of anything I could do for him.”

Bet that Rosemary Freeman and Candelario Iglesias sat together in the Elysian Fields exchanging hugs and agreeing that there’s one word for what Rosemary’s son did for Candelario’s in the second inning. The word is class.