In Sunday’s battle between the MLB greats, Detroit Tigers head coach A.J. Hinch didn’t hesitate to make a choice.
He said, “I’ll take Miggie.”
The Tigers lost, 17-4, to the Houston Astros in Sunday’s final game at Comerica Park. However, within the game, there was a special final showdown between the Tigers’ designated hitter Miguel Cabrera and the Astros right-hander Justin Verlanderand former classmates and future Hall of Famers.
“Getting a second to tip my hat to Meggie before we got going was amazing,” said Verlander. “We have a lot of great memories on and off the field. I love this guy. I have a lot of respect for him.”
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Cabrera, who is set to retire after the 2023 season, went 0-for-2 with one strike in two games against Verlander in Sunday’s loss. He would finish his 21-year career — barring a miraculous postseason rematch — without hitting Verlander in five games, including two strikeouts. Cabrera and Verlander first met on August 21, 2019, at Comerica Park, nearly two years after the Tigers traded Verlander to the Astros.
“These moments don’t happen often,” said Verlander.
Verlander, who became the first pitcher to win 100 games at Comerica Park, raised the roof on Cabrera in the second inning with the first two games between them. Cabrera responded to the gesture by flipping his helmet.
Cabrera hit Given a bad 77.9 mph curveball in the top of the strike zone in the second inning. He chased a curveball down and wide and hit a power ball to end the third inning.
“The tip of the hat says a million things,” Verlander said.
Astros manager Dusty Baker, who played 19 MLB seasons (1968–86) prior to his 26-season managerial career, compared the Cabrera-Verlander match-up to two other elite encounters he had witnessed: Barry Bonds-Pedro Martinez and Hank Aaron-Bob Gibson.
“History may judge it that way,” Verlander said. “When you’re the one doing it, I don’t think you think of it that way.”
Before Sunday’s game, Hinch was asked about the Cabrera-Verlander match. He’s managed Cabrera since 2021, but he’s managed Verlander from 2017 to 2019. He chose Hinch Cabrera, but he couldn’t help but marvel at the rare encounter between two of the greatest players in baseball history.
“Competitively speaking, it’s hard not to be too biased about it,” Hinch said. “JV can foul a four and let Miggy walk and throw his bat, or he can put one for him in there if he wants to honor it.”
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Cabrera, 40, is a 12-time All-Star, World Series champion (2003), two-time MLS Player of the Year (2012, 2013), Triple Crown winner (2012) and four-time batting champion (2011-13, 2015) with an average 307, 3,151 hits and 510 home runs during his 21-year MLB career, he is one of three players in MLB history with at least 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and 600 doubles, along with Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols.
Verlander, 40, is a nine-time All-Star, two-time World Series Champion (2017, 2022), three-time Cy Young Award winner (2011, 2019, 2022), the 2011 AL MVP, and the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year with 254 wins and 3,308 strikeouts in his 18-year MLB career. He pitched no-hitters in 2007 and 2011 with the Tigers and another in 2019 with the Astros.
They were teammates from 2008, when Cabrera joined the Tigers in a trade from the Marlins, until 2017, when Verlander was transferred to Houston.
“His natural talent was always something special,” said Verlander. “His right-handed swing is one of the purest in baseball history. His raw ability has blown me away from the second I played him.”
The Tigers posted a record of 825-764 — with a 0.519 winning percentage — across 1,589 games with Cabrera and Verlander in the organization together from March 31, 2008 to August 31, 2017.
“As a baseball fan, how wonderful to have two living legends inducted into the Hall of Fame, especially here in this ballpark, our franchise,” Hinch said before Sunday’s game. “They’ve meant the world what the Tigers have been for so many decades, so it’s great that we can take a step back and look at that, and hopefully our guy has a better way to play.”
Cabrera had no hits against Verlander, but in the eighth inning, he hit a 391-foot three-run home run off Astros right reliever Phil Mattoon, sending a sweep of the third pitch over the wall at left center for his 510th career run. With the blast, Cabrera passed Gary Sheffield—another former Tigers teammate—to rank 26th on the all-time MLB list.
“You cheer on your buddies at your club,” said Verlander. “Any time you witness history, it’s special. Every time Miggie gets a hit or a home run, it becomes part of history.”