DETROIT (AP) Miguel Cabrera made a backhanded stop, stepped on first base and smiled on the final play of his career.
The crowd roared, Cabrera's kids came out on the field and one of the best hitters of all time shed some tears before the Detroit Tigers closed the season with a 5-2 win over the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday.
“They give me a chance to say goodbye," Cabrera said. “I’m going to appreciate this moment for the rest of my life.”
The game also marked the end of Terry Francona's career. Cleveland's manager, who led Boston to a pair of World Series titles, is set to retire this week.
“I don’t think I need to be eulogized," Francona joked. "Maybe after my doctor’s appointment tomorrow, you never know.”
Francona said the day belonged to Cabrera.
It most certainly did.
The only player to win the Triple Crown in more than a half-century went 0 for 3 with a walk in his last plate appearance.
“I was kind of lost in the game because I can’t focus,” Cabrera said.
He played on defense for the first time since 2021 and entered the game at first base in the eighth, when he was the only player on the field for a couple minutes as players from both teams showed deference to one of the game's all-time greats.
Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan led off inning with a sharp grounder that Cabrera stopped without needing to move too far, setting off another round of applause and stirring a wave of emotions for him.
Cabrera covered his heart with his cap and looked up at a blue sky.
“You see so many things in this game,” Francona said. “You put a guy out there for a curtain call and the first ball is hit right to him. Maybe things work out for a reason.”
Cabrera's children came onto the field along with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch to embrace him as he was taken out of the game. After the entire team - including pitchers from the bullpen - hugged him, Cabrera used his right arm to wipe tears from his eyes.
Cabrera's children - Isabella, Brisel and Christopher - each threw a ceremonial first pitch to their father before the game with his wife, Rosangel, looking on. A little later, their son introduced the 12-time All-Star as he walked to the batter's box in the first.
“Everything was a surprise," Cabrera said.
The sold-out crowd, which included a few thousand people with standing-room only tickets, stood and screamed each time Cabrera came to the plate.
Even after he struck out in his first two at-bats and hit a weak popup in his third, 41,425 fans cheered for one of the most popular players in Detroit professional sports history.
There was a lot to like.
Cabrera became Major League Baseball’s only Triple Crown winner since 1967 in 2012, when he was named AL MVP for the first of two straight years during a run of winning three straight batting titles and four consecutive division titles.
He joined Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols last year as the three players in baseball history with 3,000 hits, 500 homers and 600 doubles.
Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. called Cabrera “a Venezuelan baseball god.”
The 40-year-old Cabrera was mortal in recent years, struggling to stay healthy and falling well short of the spectacular numbers he had at the plate in his prime.
“I’m going to miss everything," he said. “But I’m glad I played 21 years in the big leagues and I’m glad I got a chance to say goodbye."
THAT'S A WRAP
The 64-year-old Francona is putting his health first, stepping away to address major medical issues that he has had in recent years.
“As far as I know, I’m not dying,” he said. “I’m ready to do this, so I’m OK.”
Francona, who was Detroit's first base coach in 1996 before he became a first-time manager in Philadelphia the next year, closes his career with 1,950 wins to rank 13th on the career list.
The three-time AL Manager of the Year helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004 - for the first time in 86 years - and 2007. He led Cleveland to the World Series in 2016.
“Playing for him has been a blessing and an honor,” Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor said. “He’s such a good leader and a mentor for all of us. He taught us to play the game the right way, have fun and trust ourselves.”
UP AND DOWN
The Tigers (78-84) won 12 more games than they did a year ago and secured second place, their best finish in the AL Central since 2016 when they had their last winning record.
Cleveland (76-86) slipped from its 92-win season from a year ago, when it earned a spot in the postseason for the sixth time in Francona's 11 seasons.
FOR THE RECORD
Eduardo Rodriguez (13-9) gave up two runs - one earned - on four hits and a walk while striking out five in what might have been his Detroit finale. The left-hander can opt out of his contract’s final three seasons to become a free agent, giving up $49 million in guaranteed salary and potentially making much more on the market.
Lucas Giolito (1-4) allowed five runs on seven hits and four walks.
FANS IN THE STANDS
The Tigers drew 1,612,876 fans to see Cabrera's last season - including closing with consecutive sellouts for the first time since 2014 - after 1,575,544 watched them play at Comerica Park last year.
Cleveland and Detroit both begin 2024 spring training with games on Feb. 24.
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