'Very emotional': Blue Jays' top prospect meets idol Miguel Cabrera, then collects first hit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Tigers had an Alumni Day on Saturday, and former manager Jim Leyland received the loudest ovation of the afternoon.

And the second? That went to the Toronto Blue Jays' top prospect, Gabriel Moreno, who made his long-anticipated major-league debut — much to the delight of thousands of Toronto fans who made the trip to Comerica Park.

Moreno had quite a day to remember, from start (meeting his childhood idol, Miguel Cabrera before the game) to finish (collecting his first hit in the ninth inning).

Blue Jays rookie Gabriel Moreno meets his childhood idol, MIguel Cabrera, before Saturday's game.

"Very emotional," said Moreno, 22, who was still smiling after the game, a 3-1 Tigers victory before 30,738 — pretty evenly split between Tigers and Blue Jays fans. "To be in the big leagues ... I was just very happy."

Moreno is the No. 4-ranked prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

He might just be the next big thing from Venezuela — and before the game, he got to meet the biggest thing, in baseball, from Venezuela: Cabrera.

They grew up there hours apart, Cabrera, 39, in Maracay, Moreno in Barquisimeto.

What did Cabrera say to him before the game?

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"He congratulated me, of course; he gave me advice, 'Just keep playing hard, it's the same game, just take advantage of the opportunity,' " Moreno said.

"We also talked about back home, where he's from, where I'm from."

Moreno went 1-for-4 on the day, grounding out sharply in the first inning — after he was welcomed with a standing ovation from Blue Jays fans, who dominated the park's lower deck behind the visitor's dugout on the first-base side — striking out looking in the fourth and grounding out in the seventh.

Then, with two out and nobody on in the ninth, the Blue Jays down 3-0 and facing Tigers closer Gregory Soto, Moreno singled sharply to center for his first hit. It actually sparked a mini-rally that ended with the Blue Jays' potential tying runner on first. Moreno scored his first major-league run.

Toronto Blue Jays' Gabriel Moreno makes his major league debut during the second inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Detroit.

Asked what he'll remember most about Saturday, Moreno, who used a translator in his postgame interview, didn't need one on that question: "The hit."

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Even more than meeting Cabrera?

"I mean, it's two different feelings," Moreno said. "Meeting Miguel was unbelievable, but, of course, getting your first base hit in the big leagues was very special. ... Both."

Moreno, who signed with the Blue Jays as a 17-year-old, put his entire game on display Saturday, not just his bat — which is what earned him that callup, as he was batting .324 with a .380 on-base percentage for Triple-A Buffalo when he got called up.

He did a fine job blocking veteran starter Kevin Gausman's splitter, calling it even with runners on third.

He showed off his arm in the first inning, and would've gunned down Tigers base-stealer Victor Reyes if the ball wasn't dropped by shortstop Bo Bichette. (That led to an unearned run and an early Tigers lead.)

"You see his arm," Gausman said, "I can hear it when it goes by."

Even Cabrera told him, "Good throw," when Cabrera came to bat.

Moreno also wasn't afraid to be the field captain, even on Day 1.

In the first inning after Gausman walked Javy Báez — that's a neat trick; Báez had only six walks coming into the game, and none since May 25 — Moreno went to the mound to check on the pitcher who's been in the big leagues for 10 years and makes $22.5 million per year. 

"I didn't even know he was coming, and I turned around and he was there," Gausman said. "Kind of snuck up on me. ... That's just a good feel for the game. ... He feels confident and comfortable.

"I don't know if I was 22 catching a guy with some time (in MLB) if I would do that.

"Pretty cool that he feels that comfortable with us."

And the comfort level, already clearly high, will only grow as he gets more reps, sharing time with another top-flight catching prospect, 23-year-old Alejandro Kirk, who flew out sharply to deep right as a pinch-hitter to end the game.

"I will remember this moment," Moreno said, "for the rest of my life."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984