'No words': Cabrera launches homer No. 499 in Tigers' 5-2 win at Baltimore
Baltimore — One more.
Miguel Cabrera took the penultimate step toward the hallowed 500 home run plateau Wednesday night and was a catalyst in the Tigers’ 5-2 win over the Orioles.
In an eventful fifth inning at Orioles Park at Camden Yards, Cabrera broke a scoreless tie, turning on a 1-2 hanging curveball from Baltimore starter Matt Harvey and sending it over the wall in left field — home run No. 499.
He had singled in his first two at-bats, bringing his career hits total to 2,950.
"We were pumped for him," manager AJ Hinch said. "We need him in a good place and he was swinging the bat pretty well. We all know what's going on. We're not really talking about it as much as you'd probably think.
"It's cool to experience it. Everyone is really excited. But it's complicated focusing on 500 when we're trying to win the game."
With one more blast, Cabrera will become the 28th player in major league history to join the 500-Homer Club. And he will be the first to hit No. 500 wearing a Tigers uniform.
“I have no words to describe that,” said fellow Venezuelan Renato Nunez, whom the Tigers brought back from Toledo before the game. “All you guys know, he’s my favorite player. I just hope I get the opportunity to watch him get 500. That would be something special.”
Asked what Cabrera means to his country, Nunez said, perfectly, “The best player Venezuela has born. That’s it. He’s the best guy we got.”
Hinch didn't even wait for the question to be asked — yes, Cabrera will be in the lineup Thursday against the Orioles. They aren't going to sit him and wait for him to hit No. 500 at Comerica Park in the next homestand.
"I've talked to him," Hinch said. "We're not going to test baseball fate. We really want him to hit it when he's supposed to hit it. It might be tomorrow and it might not be. It's not easy to walk up there and say today is the day I'm going to hit a home run — even for Miguel Cabrera.
"He wants to win tomorrow. That's what he wants me to know and he gives us the best chance to win when he's the DH."
About that fifth inning, though: Talk about exaltation and agony.
The Tigers, after leaving the bases loaded in the first and third innings, quickly put runners at second and third after Cabrera's home run.
"I thought Miggy's homer decompressed our entire group in the dugout because we got to play with a lead," Hinch said.
But a safety squeeze play failed. Harold Castro got the bunt down, but Jeimer Candelario, who had doubled, didn’t get a good break off of third and was thrown out at the plate.
It looked like another threat would be doused. Then Niko Goodrum, in his second game back off the injured list, ripped a two-run double down the line in right.
Goodrum, though, hobbled into second, clearly in pain. He came off the field immediately, favoring his left leg. The Tigers later said he suffered a groin strain. He’d been out since July 10 with a hematoma in his left calf.
"It's awful for him," HInch said. "He had worked his way back and he gets the big hit for us. He said he felt it in his first step after he rounded first. When he met us on the field (already walking off), that told me everything I needed to know about how much pain he was in."
Goodrum was placed in the injured list and outfielder Jacob Robson, who has been in the Tigers' system since 2016, was called up from Triple-A Toledo.
Cabrera came to bat with runners at second and third in the sixth and hit a line drive sacrifice fly to right field — a three-hit, two-RBI night. He had gone 26 at-bats without hitting No. 499, but in that span contributed six hits, two walks and a sacrifice fly.
"Miggy has been playing professional baseball three less years than I've been alive," said rookie lefty Tarik Skubal, who pitched six scoreless innings Wednesday. "Just awesome, a Hall-of-Fame player that you get to be teammates with. It's a blessing.
"Every day seeing Miguel Cabrera, you get a little start-struck. Every hit he's breaking some record. It's unbelievable what he's doing still."
Skubal, who has now thrown 11 straight scoreless innings over two starts, allowed just five hits, with six strikeouts and just one walk. He’s now pitched 11 shutout innings over his last two starts.
He has 127 strikeouts this season, fourth-most all time for a Tiger in his rookie season.
"He impressed me tonight in a lot of ways," Hinch said of Skubal. "It was a hot night, there was a delay — not an easy night to pitch. And he had no room for error with Harvey and him matching zero for zero. He hung in and got some big outs."
The Orioles have lost seven straight, but they stopped another streak just before it became a dubious record. They had allowed at least nine runs in their previous six games. The MLB record, last set by the 2000 Mariners, was seven straight.
And, speaking of streaks, this was the fourth straight game in which the Tigers had to endure a rain delay before the first pitch. This one lasted 71 minutes.
Worth the wait, though, for the Tigers and the Cabrera milestone chase.