Published September 3o, 2o16
They say that in baseball, you can’t run out the clock.
That’s true—most of the time.
It’s a game of 27 outs, not of shot clocks or two minute warnings.
But when Mother Nature rears her head, time is indeed of the essence.
Major League Baseball rules dictate that for a game to be officially put into the books as complete, the visiting team has to be retired three times in the top of the fifth inning. After that, if the home team is winning, the game can be declared official due to inclement weather. The fifth inning essentially becomes the ninth inning in that scenario.
Miguel Cabrera came to the plate in the Tigers’ half of the fifth inning on Wednesday. Two men were on base. The game with the Cleveland Indians was tied, 3-3.
Rain had swept in over Comerica Park and indeed, the entire southeastern Michigan region. It was increasing in its intensity and the radar reports indicated no relief in sight.
The Tigers badly needed a victory, as they have needed all week and will continue to need this weekend in Atlanta, in order to keep their tenuous playoff hopes alive.
Cabrera was up against nature’s clock. He needed to deliver, for a Tigers’ lead at that point, given the weather forecast, could certainly be seen as an eventual game-winning one.
Through the sheets of rain, Cabrera stared out at Indians pitcher Joseph Colon. A measly single could drive in the go-ahead run. Then it could be a matter of letting nature take its course.
But this is Miguel Cabrera and this is a future Hall of Famer. Why hit a single when you can clear the fence instead?
Cabrera drove Colon’s pitch deep into the rainy night and the ball didn’t land until it had cleared the right center field wall.
The Tigers led, 6-3. It turned out to be a time-delayed walk-off, because the umpires bowed to the radar—and common sense—and called the game. The Tigers got a rain-soaked victory. At this point, they’ll take any kind of victory, wet or dry.
Cabrera, one of the greatest hitters of his time or of any time, nonetheless gets his share of criticism.
I wonder if Red Sox fans had problems with Ted Williams—and I don’t mean with Williams’ aloofness.
I wonder if Padres fans chirped about Tony Gwynn.
Did the Cardinals faithful go after Albert Pujols?
Maybe it’s the Internet and talk radio phenomena.
Cabrera isn’t a clutch hitter. He hits meaningless home runs. He’s not a leader.
I’ve been a critic.
But that was early in his Detroit career, circa 2010. I, too, fretted that Cabrera didn’t put the Tigers on his back for any length of time.
I don’t feel that way anymore and I haven’t for quite some time.
After Wednesday’s win, after the umpires waved the white flag, in the dryness of the Tigers clubhouse, Cabrera spoke about his huge home run.
He was asked if he knew that, at that moment, he’d better deliver, or else—because of the deteriorating conditions at Comerica Park.
Cabrera looked at the questioner with a straight, almost dismissive face.
“No. Just trying to make contact,” Cabrera said, answering as if that was the first time he’d given it any consideration.
The question seemed almost beneath him.
This is what the great ones do. They deliver when needed, then shrug it off afterward.
Just another at-bat. Just another effort at putting good wood on the baseball.
Cabrera’s nonchalant attitude can’t diminish the importance of his home run in the rain on Wednesday night. The Tigers aren’t in the playoffs, but if they make it, it would be negligent to not look squarely at the five-inning walk-off as why they’re in.
The home run came against a team that’s owned the Tigers all year. It came in the rain, where a suspended, tie game would have wreaked havoc with the scheduling. It rescued a win just before nature slammed the door shut on the evening.
Cabrera will never be the superstar that some Detroit sports fans want to see.
He’ll never be the one upon whose every word you hang. He’ll never be Steve Yzerman or Isiah Thomas that way.
He’ll never play the game with a football player’s mentality or passion. He’ll never be Kirk Gibson that way.
He pleaded for positive thoughts from Tigers fans a couple weeks ago, which in of itself separates him from the pack. And some folks didn’t like that, either.
He’s hard to understand. His English isn’t the greatest.
He doesn’t appear to embrace Detroit as his second home. He’s not Alan Trammell that way.
All he is, is the greatest hitter who’s ever slipped on a Tigers uniform—and that includes Ty Cobb.
You think he doesn’t come through in the clutch? You think he pads his numbers in small time situations?
That’s OK—everyone is entitled to their opinion.
No matter how wrong it is.