Miguel Cabrera is a near-lock to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame after he retires at the end of this season. He’s a two-time American League MVP, a Triple Crown winner, a 12-time All-Star, a seven-time Silver Slugger, and a four-time batting champion, and a winner of the 2003 World Series. He has also accumulated over 3,100 hits and a 67.9 fWAR as a first baseman, third baseman, and left fielder. To the potential surprise of Yankees scouts, it didn’t happen as a pitcher.
With the Yankees currently squaring off with Cabrera in Detroit before hosting him in the Bronx for the final time next week, we thought it would be fun to explore some of the most memorable moments that he has had against the Yankees to pay tribute to an incredible career. Entering this series, he’s faced them 92 times and hit 19 homers while slashing .301/.377/.540 in 374 PA.
Cabrera was a tough customer to handle from the jump, and the Bombers bore the brunt.
2003 World Series
Cabrera came into the league in 2003 as a rookie and newly-turned 20-year-old after being signed out of Venezuela by the Florida Marlins in 1999. As MLB’s 12th-ranked preseason prospect per Baseball America, expectations were high, and impressively, he hit a walk-off homer in his June debut. He played 87 regular season games, but what he’s probably most famous for is his home run off Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens in the 2003 World Series.
Clemens knew what Cabrera was all about, and he started off the at-bat just as you would expect a veteran pitcher like Clemens would: a fastball up and in.
After brushing back the youngster, Clemens threw a high fastball that Cabrera tipped into the glove and a low offspeed pitch and got a swing. Cabrera watched a ball, fouled off two more pitches, and then went to the opposite field to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead.
Florida went on to win Game 4 in 12 innings and rode three straight victories to upset New York for the title (the lone World Series ring of Cabrera’s career). Cabrera showed from an early age that he wasn’t afraid of players who wanted to test him, and he’s held that resilience throughout his entire career.
Three years later, Cabrera would come back to the old Yankee Stadium and make a statement of power in a ballpark that has seen plenty of it from Hall of Fame players. On a pitch from 2005 standout Shawn Chacon that settled right down the middle of the plate, the ascendant slugger blasted the ball nearly into the left-center field bleachers.
At the time, it was estimated to have gone about 446 feet, and he was one of the few players to even threaten getting the ball all the way up there (Juan Encarnación was the only man to do it at the remodeled Yankee Stadium).
2011-12 MLB Playoffs
The battles between the Yankees and Cabrera only escalated when the Marlins executed one of their many sell-offs and dealt him to the Tigers in December 2007 for a package of prospects. Now in the same league, games against Cabrera became more commonplace, and there were playoff showdowns, as well.
In 2011 and 2012, the Yankees and Tigers faced off in the postseason. Unfortunately for New York, neither series went their way. After the Yankees won a dramatic 2011 ALDS opener, Cabrera went yard in the first inning of Game 2 to put Detroit ahead 2-0; they’d go on to win that night by the very same margin and take the series in five.
The 2012 ALCS was one of the most lopsided in history, as New York never had a lead. Game 1 had more theatrics from folk hero Raúl Ibañez, but Derek Jeter suffered a season-ending ankle injury and the Yankees lost in extras. From there, the Tigers steamrolled, and in Game 4, the Triple Crown/MVP Cabrera put the nail in the coffin against ace CC Sabathia.
On the first pitch of the at-bat, with one man on first base, and one out, Cabrera fought off a pitch way inside and pulled it all the way to a no-doubt home run.
Watching this pitch over and over again, there’s really no way to fault Sabathia. That season, Cabrera hit a career-high and league-best 44 home runs (also a total he would tie the next season), and even though that was the only home run he hit in the series, it certainly came at the right time.
2013 Cooperstown Duel
There’s nothing better than a clash between two future Hall of Famers, and we got that with this battle between the retiring Mariano Rivera and the MVP Cabrera with two outs left and one man on base in the top of the ninth of a tight 3-1 game in 2013.
The at-bat could have ended on the first pitch, but first baseman Lyle Overbay wasn’t able to make the catch on a foul ball that was just out of his reach. Cabrera fouled a pitch off again and took a ball for a 1-2 count. Then, Cabrera fouled off two more cutters inside that ended up hitting him both on the leg and requiring him to walk it off. One slider outside later, and Rivera threw a pitch right down the middle which Cabrera took full advantage of, blasting it over the head of Brett Gardner and into Monument Park.
The good news is, even though that singular moment was one of Cabrera’s highlights against the Yankees, Gardner would end up walking it off against Al Alburquerque in the bottom of the 10th.
2017 and beyond
Of course, even with all of these big hits that Cabrera had against the Yankees, there were some other memorable moments. I mean, it’s hard to forget in 2017 when backup catcher Austin Romine and Cabrera got into a fight at home plate after some serious jawing and a big shove.
And, how could we forget about the intentional walk controversy when Cabrera was vying for 3,000 career hits? That was a moment not only etched in the history of Yankees vs. Cabrera but also one that made national sporting news, prompting analysts like Stephen A. Smith to say things like “ban the intentional walk” on First Take.
No matter how deep you choose to look into Cabrera’s incredible career, there are bound to be some highlights of him versus the Yankees. He’s one of the greatest players of all time for a reason, and he made pitchers that had previously seemed unhittable, hittable.
Congratulations on a Hall of Fame career, Miggy! Enjoy the last ride.