How Miguel Cabrera helped Detroit Tigers sign his 'really good friend' Eduardo Rodriguez
For starters, the Tigers offered him a five-year, $77 million contract.
But he also likes the idea of being a cornerstone piece for a building franchise. He understands the Tigers are trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2014, and he thinks he can help the process. There's an opportunity to take on a leadership role among the pitching staff.
And Rodriguez has a friend on the team.
His name is Miguel Cabrera.
"One of the special things was Miggy," Rodriguez, a fellow Venezuelan, said Monday. "We're really good friends. He started explaining everything about Detroit. He told me a lot about the organization and the team, and how I'd like to be a part of it."
Rodriguez, who turns 29 in April, vividly remembers the last trip he made to Comerica Park.
He took the mound Aug. 4 for the Boston Red Sox in front of 16,663 fans and pitched masterfully. The left-hander delivered five scoreless innings, giving up two hits and four walks, with 10 strikeouts. He guided his team to a 4-1 victory.
One day prior, Cabrera crushed his 498th career home run against Red Sox starter Garrett Richards. Just two homers away from a historic milestone, the 19-year MLB veteran was scheduled to face Rodriguez in the second game of the series and left-hander Martin Perez in the finale.
"He needed like two more home runs," Rodriguez said. "It was funny because it was me and Martin Perez pitching in back-to-back games. We talked to him, like, 'We love you, bro, but this is part of the game. I don't want to be the 500.' I remember that really good. We joked with him all those days. I pitched the first day. I just told Martin the next day, 'Good luck, bro. Don't give it to him.'"
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Rodriguez and Perez avoided being on the wrong side of history, and Cabrera eventually reached No. 500 in Toronto on Aug. 22, when he took Blue Jays left-hander Steven Matz deep to right-center field at Rogers Centre.
Cabrera, who turns 39 in April, finished last season with a .256 batting average, 15 home runs, 75 RBIs, 40 walks and 118 strikeouts over 130 games, a regression from his glory days, which included the Triple Crown in 2012 and back-to-back American League MVP awards.
Still, Cabrera remains an impactful presence for the Tigers and across the baseball industry. He is considered a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Following Rodriguez's visit in early August, the buzz surrounding Cabrera's chase picked up Aug. 13, as the Tigers returned to Comerica Park for a six-game homestand. Each time Cabrera stepped to the plate, the fans stood in anticipation of history. (A "Miggy Milestones" countdown was installed, towering over the list of retired numbers in left field.)
The Tigers hosted 153,479 fans during those six games, averaging 25,580 per game and topping out at 32,845 on Aug. 14.
For the first time in a long time, the Tigers had a playoff-like atmosphere at their ballpark.
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Rodriguez hopes for similar crowds in 2022.
"I've been watching postseasons here when I was in the minor leagues," Rodriguez said. "I know how it gets here when you get to the postseason. When Miggy was getting close to 500, I saw the atmosphere here. I want to be part of it. I want to be part of the postseason here and see all the fans."
Cabrera is entering his 20th MLB season with a career .310 batting average, 2,987 hits, 597 doubles, 502 home runs and 1,804 RBIs across 2,587 games. He has two years remaining on his contract — $32 million for each year — and plans to retire when it expires.
And Rodriguez is pumped to join Cabrera for the final stage of his illustrious journey.
"It's going to be fun. I will say that."