CHICAGO — Miguel Cabrera has checked the leaderboard.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Cabrera said. “Let me see. I hope I can pass him.”
He was talking about Adrián Beltré, who played 21 seasons and ranks 16th on MLB’s all-time list with 3,166 hits. Before Saturday’s game, Cabrera needed 13 hits to surpass him. After Saturday’s game, Cabrera needs just nine to take down Beltré.
In 2023, Cabrera has already passed Ichiro Suzuki (3,089), Dave Winfield (3,110), Álex Rodríguez (3,115), Tony Gwynn (3,141), Robin Yount (3,142), Paul Waner (3,152) and — on Saturday — George Brett (3,154).
Cabrera, in the 21st and final season of his MLB career, jumped Brett on the leaderboard with a first-inning double off Chicago White Sox right-hander Mike Clevinger in the Detroit Tigers‘ 10-0 win at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Moving past Brett was personal for Cabrera.
Cabrera and Brett developed a relationship during the 2012 season, when Cabrera won the American League Triple Crown with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. He clinched the trio of first-place finishes on Oct. 3, 2012, against the Royals in Kansas City, Missouri.
“He’s a nice guy,” Cabrera said of Brett, who played 21 seasons for the Royals. “When I was getting close to 3,000 hits, he called me and said he would be at my last game in Kansas City.”
Sure enough, Brett attended Cabrera’s final game at Kauffman Stadium, back in July. Brett greeted Cabrera on the field July 19 and presented him with a framed collection of photos from his historic day in 2012.
“It’s unbelievable,” Cabrera said. “When you pass Tony Gwynn and George Brett, when you see their numbers early in your career, you say, ‘That’s impossible.’ … When you talk about hitting, you got to talk about Tony Gwynn and George Brett.”
The first-inning double off Clevinger in Saturday’s game kickstarted Cabrera’s first four-hit performance since Sept. 8, 2021, against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. He has 49 four-hit games in his career.
The 40-year-old is batting .257 with 16 doubles, three home runs, 26 walks and 60 strikeouts in 81 games this season.
“My approach today was swing at first-pitch strikes, be aggressive in the count,” Cabrera said. “Last three or four games, I’ve been taking first pitch strikes. In that position, I said I’m going to be aggressive and try to make contact.”
“He can get hits at any point, but he wanted to get good pitches to hit,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “I think he can sense as well as anybody, probably in baseball, when the guy is vulnerable and has to throw a strike. When he sticks to his plan, the results are good.”
Cabrera’s approach, batting cleanup for the third time this season, reflected the Tigers’ approach against Clevinger. The Tigers crushed Clevinger for eight runs on 12 hits over four innings, on the way to a season-high 18 hits.
The first eight hits occurred with two outs and led to six runs in the first and second innings.
“We were aggressive with him,” Cabrera said. “We didn’t wait for him to go first-pitch strike and be nasty after that. Our game today was aggressive, trying to swing at first-pitch strikes. That’s what we did today. It’s why we got a lot of hits.”
The four-hit game pushed Cabrera to 3,158 in his career, leaving him nine hits from passing Beltré and 27 hits from passing Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184).
That raises the question: Can Cabrera catch the Baltimore Orioles‘ ironman?
The Tigers have 26 games remaining in the season, but Cabrera won’t play in all of them. Cabrera, though, has a .300 batting average (55-for-183) across 202 plate appearances in 54 games since May 30, averaging 3.74 plate appearances per game and 0.27 hits per plate appearance.
During that span, Cabrera played in 65% of the Tigers’ 84 games.
If the trend continues, Cabrera will play in roughly 17 of the remaining 26 games, accumulating about 64 plate appearances and, should he keep up that .300 pace, add about 17 hits to his résumé — enough to pass Beltré but not enough to catch Ripken.
“I want him to play as much as possible,” Hinch said last week. “But I also want to ensure, to the best of my ability, that I don’t run him into the ground in the last 30 days or so. I’ll try to communicate it. I’m open with him. He knows the schedule week-by-week, and I’ll try to do the same for our home fans.”
The final game of this season and, most likely, Cabrera’s career, is set for Oct. 1 at Comerica Park; the Sunday afternoon game is practically sold out, with only limited single seats and standing room tickets available as of Wednesday morning. (Tickets remain plentiful for the Tigers’ Sept. 29-30 games.)
Cabrera has been putting on a show for baseball fans throughout his entire career. He received praise from the fans in Chicago, including a large contingent of fans from Venezuela, amid his latest four-hit performance.
He was asked about the status of his legs, which he relied upon more than most games, after Saturday’s win. His response, in classic Cabrera fashion, triggered an outburst of laughter.
“Sore,” Cabrera said. “I need ice.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Can Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera catch Cal Ripken Jr. on MLB hits list?