In Sunday's game, Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander took the mound at a very familiar scene. This was Comerica Park, the place where the future Hall Of Famer began his MLB career in the very same ballpark wearing a Detroit Tiger uniform on the fourth of July in 2005.
Motor City Track Record
Since his MLB debut, Verlander culminated one of the greatest stretch of careers in the Motor City. Notable awards include the 2006 Rookie of the Year, six All-Star selections, and a Cy Young Award, MVP, and Pitching Triple Crown in the same year. Verlander's tenure in Detroit consists of five playoff appearances, with four straight division titles between 2011 and 2014 and two World Series pennants in 2006 and 2012.
The 18-year veteran had played alongside a host of well-regarded teammates, including Max Scherzer, Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez, Prince Fielder, and Pudge Rodriguez. However, no player earned Verlander's utmost respect more than his former teammate, Miguel Cabrera.
World Series Rookie
Miguel Cabrera is widely regarded as one of the greatest modern hitters of all time. A future Hall of Famer in his own right, Cabrera, at just 20 years old, quickly stepped on the MLB scene and helped his Florida Marlins won the 2003 World Series against the loaded New York Yankees in his first year.
Despite this remarkable start to his career, the Marlins struggled to recapture that same magic as a team and didn't return to the playoffs during Cabrera's tenure with them. Regardless, Cabrera consistently excelled at the plate, establishing himself as one of the most feared young hitters in the league.
Start Of A Friendship
To shed salary, Cabrera was traded to the Tigers following the 2007 season. In the subsequent year, he and Verlander became teammates, forging an immediate connection. This laid the foundation for a solid decade-long bond as teammates. Competition between them made them better, as they both won similar awards: an MVP and a Triple Crown.
Along with Miggy and JV's individual success together, their shared journey witnessed soaring highs, like the aforementioned playoff appearances, including the World Series pennant run in 2012. Following their fourth straight division title in 2014, the Tigers failed to make the playoffs with the two on the team together. Verlander and Cabrera faced challenges as both players regressed a bit and became injury prone as the team struggled to make another playoff run from 2015 to 2017.
A Strong Bond Off The Field
Off the field, their camaraderie was unmistakably evident. Their interactions ranged from social media exchanges, like Verlander congratulating Miggy on video for reaching 500 career home runs, to joint public appearances, such as sitting courtside at Oracle Arena during an NBA playoff game. The bond between them goes beyond the confines of Comerica Park, painting a picture of a deep and genuine friendship.
Their camaraderie persisted as close friends, even after Verlander departed from the team.
Even with Verlander's revitalized success following his trade to the Houston Astros in 2017, their friendship still remained strong as former teammates, especially when Cabrera was up to bat to face the veteran righthander.
Two Different Directions
Now, both players are on different trajectories in their MLB career. One 40-year old is on the heels of a tight playoff spot race with 30 games left to go. The other 40-year old is on his last leg, providing a veteran presence to a young Tigers team with playoff aspirations. Prior to this season, Cabrera announced his retirement from baseball after logging 20 years of time in his career.
The Final Matchup
The camaraderie between the two on the field may have met its bittersweet ending on the field yesterday afternoon, with both future HOFs facing each other, likely for the final time.
When Cabrera came up to bat against Verlander in the first inning, both were seen tipping their caps to each other as a sign of mutual respect, reflecting on the many memories and achievements they shared as teammates and during at-bats against each other. Manager Dusty Baker compared this matchup between them to MLB legend's Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson.
Following the game, Verlander also chimed in on his final matchup against his former teammate:
"“The fans were great, which I’ve always appreciated. And getting a second to tip my cap to Miggy before we go at it was pretty cool. We’ve had a lot of great memories together on and off the field. And I love that guy and just have so much respect for him. I’m glad A.J. put him in the lineup and I’m glad we had that moment.”"- Justin Verlander
Two Detroit Household Names
Both players, renowned in their roles — Verlander as a commanding pitcher and Cabrera as a generational hitter — consistently vocalized mutual admiration. It wasn't just about talent; it was about recognizing the blood, sweat, and tears the other put into the game. Their respective successes intertwined, creating a synergy that fans and analysts admired.
For the city of Detroit and baseball enthusiasts everywhere, Verlander and Cabrera's relationship remains a heartwarming reminder that baseball, at its core, is as much about the people as it is about the sport.