Fired-up crowd comes to see Cabrera make history, stays to revel in Tigers win
Detroit — A smile creased Jeimer Candelario's face.
"That was special," he said, after the Tigers broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the eighth to beat the Cleveland Indians 6-4. "I know that was special for me and I know it was special for my teammates.
"We're just soaking it in right now."
He wasn't talking about the win as much as he was talking about the electrifying atmosphere.
A fired-up crowd of 32,845 — the largest since July 24, 2019 — poured into Comerica Park on a gorgeous Saturday night. They came to celebrate Fiesta Tigre and the accomplishments of Latino players throughout history.
And, of course, they came to witness the most famous Tigers Latino player make his own history.
"I'm glad the fans care and I'm glad our players are appreciating them coming out," manager AJ Hinch said. "They're all into it. There is a buzz in the ballpark. And we're trying to earn our way back into being a good baseball team again."
History will have to wait for Miguel Cabrera, who remains at 499 career home runs. But he singled (hit No. 2,951), flew out to center, got hit on the arm with a pitch — much to the angry displeasure of the paying customers — and, after hitting a drive just outside the right-field foul pole, walked.
But they still saw a pretty good baseball game. They saw Willi Castro make his professional debut as an outfielder and show off his under-appreciated wheels on the bases. They saw Candelario continue his post-All-Star break assault on opposing pitchers. They saw some clutch escapes by a couple of Tigers pitchers.
And, lo and behold, they saw the Tigers beat the Indians, which hasn't happened much over the last five years.
"I love that the players are getting to witness what it's like here in Detroit when there is an environment like this," Hinch said. "I've heard about it. People here have talked about it. People have seen it through the playoff years. We're going to get back to that point and the fans are going to love it."
The Indians, who were down 4-1 at one point, tied the score in the top of the seventh. When Cabrera came to bat against veteran right-hander Bryan Shaw in the bottom of the eighth, the crowd, as it has done for each of his at-bats, got on its feet, chanting "Miggy, Miggy."
"You get a lead and it goes away, but you don't get deflated," Hinch said. "And then the crowd can pick you back up into it as soon as Miggy's at-bat came up. It's going to be this way regardless of the milestone chase."
Cabrera, after fouling one just outside the right field foul pole, worked a seven-pitch walk and left to a huge ovation as Jacob Robson pinch-ran for him. Candelario and Renato Nunez singled to load the bases.
That set the stage for former Indian Eric Haase. With the infield in and the outfield back, he dunked a two-run single into left field. He's had five hits in his last four games against the Indians.
After Michael Fulmer pitched a scoreless eighth inning, Gregory Soto breezed through the ninth to earn his 15th save.
"We just want to win ballgames," said Candelario, who hit his 10th home run of the season in the first inning. "We want to win series. If you win series, you're going to be up there. Just coming to the ballpark wanting to win all the time."
Though it’s been overshadowed by the Miggy mania, Candelario has kicked it into hyper-drive since the All-Star break. Before collecting two hits Saturday to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, he carried a slash-line of .330/.420/.588 since the break, with 12 doubles, two triples, three homers and 18 RBIs.
"He's been incredible," Hinch said. "And very consistent. There's very few games that go by that he doesn't do something positive with the bat."
The home run Saturday gives him four, with 20 RBIs, since the break.
"You look up and his OPS is around .800, he's got double-digit home runs and he's among the leaders in doubles — that's a good player," Hinch said. "And if you're not watching every day you're not going to appreciate what he's been doing."
Willi Castro's wheels produced the next two runs. Whatever anxiousness he was feeling about making his first professional start in left field, he didn’t bring any of it to the plate.
"Maybe playing the outfield frees him up," Hinch said. "He was not at all tense or nervous. He felt right in position."
In the second inning he poked a two-strike single to right field, stole second and scored on a bloop single to right by Victor Reyes. Castro got a good read on the ball and didn’t hesitate rounding third.
In the fourth inning he hustled down the line and beat the throw from second base to nullify a double-play. He stole second again — his sixth stolen base of the season — and scored on a two-out single by Zack Short.
For Short, the hit was his first hit since July 28, ending an 0-for-30 drought, and it put the Tigers up 4-1.
As for Cabrera, he continues to put up good at-bats. The single was career hit No. 2.951.
"There's no study on this yet, I'm going to look at it when I get to my office, but everybody is throwing their best fastballs to Miggy," Hinch said. "When he's at the plate, the velocity on the fastballs he's seeing is ticking up.
"So, if you think they don't know exactly where Miggy is, you're crazy. They're very aware and they don't want to be the guy to give up the (500th) homer."