I didn’t think I needed to watch Wednesday’s Tigers-Yankees game. I went to the movies after work, actually, turned my phone off because I am polite and considerate, and then, when I brought it back on around a quarter to nine, learned that Miguel Cabrera had picked up two hits in his first two at -bats in the ga—no wait, now he had THREE! That put him at 2,999 for his career, with enough baseball left for a shot at 3,000 before the end of the night.
Tigers fans, heading into this series, were not focused on Wednesday. Our hope and our questions instead hovered around Sunday as a kind of deadline for 3,000. The Tigers returned home this week with Cabrera at 2,995, and after averaging one hit per start through the first few games of the season, he would need five in a six-game homestand to hit that milestone before heading back out on the road. At best, people were looking at Thursday or Friday, but really, after six games in Detroit spent on 499 home runs last season before getting 500 in Toronto, I think everyone was just anxious about being able to celebrate this one with him.
Cabrera went, as expected, 1-for-3 on Tuesday in the opener. But on Wednesday, each at-bat piled on the surprise. Cabrera’s spoken, in the run-up to 3,000, about the lighter pressure he feels pursuing singles instead of swinging for the fences, and each hit in this game was a testament to the fact that in baseball, any kind of contact gives you a decent shot at reaching base. The first, in the second inning, was a little chopper to third that Cabrera, the slowest player on the Tigers last year, turned into a hit with his legs. And after touching first, it looked like even he could barely believe it.
The next hit, in the fourth, was just the simplest kind of hitting a 20-year veteran can do—a solid smack up the middle that moved faster than the shortstop and got Cabrera to 2,998.
It started to feel magical in the sixth, when Cabrera broke his bat on an absurdly inside Chad Green pitch but still somehow managed to put a ball in play that avoided the Yankees infield. This was the moment that shifted the plans of every Detroiter.
Shortly after 2,999 I was hustling home with the Tigers radio broadcast in my headphones, listening to the Yankees take a 5-3 lead thanks primarily to poor defense. I got back to my apartment just in time, during a commercial break in the middle of the eighth, then stupidly realized that, because the Tigers were playing New York and I live in New York, this game was blacked out for me on MLB TV . So I made the calculation to keep following the game as I was, pacing around my apartment, arguing with myself the impossibility of Cabrera actually getting all four in one night vs. the evidence that he had done what he needed to do three times already, listening to Dan Dickerson describe the scene as an official crowd of 17,268—42 percent of capacity—stood up in the chilly Detroit night for the bottom of the eighth’s leadoff hitter.
Cabrera, facing Clay Holmes, hit a foul ball on the first pitch that sounded closer to fair on the radio than it looked on TV. He swung and missed at a slider that dipped beautifully below the zone. He took a ball outside to renew the crowd’s belief, before a hittable pitch at waist level eluded his bat for the strikeout. The fans, after taking a few moments to recover from their disappointment, still cheered as he walked back to the dugout. Then a lot of them headed for the exits.
Cabrera’s batting in the cleanup spot today at 1 pm ET in the series finale, and this time I will figure out a way to see him swing with my own eyes. His .333 average, crudely speaking, would predict 3,000 for him today, and if not today then certainly, one would hope, on Friday or at least by Sunday except in the absolute worst-case scenario. Because he is now so close, each time he steps up to the plate until 3,000, Tigers fans will be prepared for history—for perhaps the last time someone reaches that milestone until a player whose name we don’t yet know yet gets there. They’ll be on their way to the park as I type this, or figuring out how to surreptitiously watch from work, or making their lunch before settling in on the couch. Wednesday night had people scrambling. But now, when 3,000 comes, we’ll be ready.