On June 20th, 2003, Miguel Cabrera was 2,955 hits and 500 home runs away from where he is now.
On that day, a 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera made his highly anticipated big league debut for the Florida Marlins. At the time, Cabrera was the Marlins' number one overall prospect and 12th overall in all of baseball.
His offensive ceiling was that of a perennial All-Star and possibly a future in the Hall of Fame.
“Cabrera’s line-drive swing has produced more doubles than homers so far. While some of his teammates were frustrated by hitting in the Florida State League, Cabrera took his doubles off the wall and stayed positive. He projects to hit for both average and power, with annual totals of 35-40 homers not out of the question down the road.“
Baseball America scouting report entering 2003
Despite the high praise and lofty expectations set upon him, Cabrera was inserted into the 8th spot of Jack McKeon’s Florida Marlins lineup; the Marlins at the time held a record of 35-39.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were in town to begin a three-game set in the all-important Citrus Series. Tampa Bay was coming off a 12-inning affair with the New York Yankees, in which the Devil Rays accumulated just three hits and zero runs with New York walking it off in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Thus the stage was set for history to begin in Miami.
Tampa Bay immediately went to work offensively against Marlins starter Mark Redman after their dozen innings without a run the day before. Damian Rolls singled and moved to third on a Rocco Baldelli double. Rolls came into score on an Aubrey Huff sacrifice fly and just like that, the Devil Rays held a 1-0 lead.
After a 1-2-3 bottom half of the first, the two sides traded zeroes on the scoreboard until the bottom of the 4th inning. Meanwhile, Cabrera had made his first plate appearance in the bottom of the third, facing Devil Rays starter Rob Bell. After falling behind 1-2, Cabrera battled with Bell before finally striking out on the 9th pitch of the at-bat.
The Marlins tied the game in the bottom of the 4th after a Juan Pierre triple followed by an Andy Fox groundout.
Then there was a whole lot of nothing going on for the next several innings. Both sides would mount attempts at scoring runs, but each side came out fruitless.
For Cabrera’s role in this: flew out after working another full count on the 6th, grounded into a double play in the 7th, and then in the bottom of the 9th with the winning run on second base, he grounded out harmlessly to the pitcher to force the game into extra innings.
He was now 0-4 in his Major League debut.
The two sides traded zeroes again in the 10th, with Travis Harper working out of a bases-loaded jam in his third inning of relief. Armando Almanza maneuvered his way around a pair of walks in the top of the 11th to keep the Devil Rays off the board again. Then, Al Levine took over for Harper in the bottom half of the frame.
Derrek Lee flew out, but Alex Gonzalez laced a groundball into the left field scored to put himself at second base with just one away.
This of course brought up the 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera, giving him the opportunity to walk it off in his first big league game.
He wasn’t patient.
Cabrera greeted the first pitch he seen from Levin and sent it soaring to the seemingly never-ending and awkwardly dimensioned center field of Pro Player Stadium.
It was Devil Rays rookie sensation center fielder Rocco Baldelli turn to give chase.
But the ball was crushed on a line by Cabrera and quickly made its way over Baldelli.
Baldelli hoped to potentially play a carom off the wall and throw out Gonzalez with his strong arm.
But the ball didn’t stop at the wall.
It cleared it.
Cabrera had hit a two-run, walk-off home run in his Major League debut.
As Cabrera rounded the bases, the Marlins play-by-play man Len Kasper exultantly exclaimed, “Welcome to the Big Leagues!”
Following the game and a celebratory pie to the face, Cabrera had this to say:
“I feel great. I feel excited. My first day in the big leagues, my first hit’s a homerun, it’s good.’’
Miguel Cabrera has now played in a total of 2555 games since crushing that walk-off homerun off of Al Levine. Cabrera finished 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting following the season, but also received some MVP votes as well.
Thanks to his incredible play, the Marlins went from being a doormat below .500 to being among the best teams in the National League.
From the time of his debut through the end of the season, the Marlins had a record of 56-32, the second-best mark in the National League over that time. They finished second place in the National League East, but surged their way through the postseason, playing through some extremely memorable and controversial moments all the way. They ultimately met and then beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Overall in his big league career, Cabrera has been named to the All-Star team an incredible 11 times. He has seven Silver Slugger awards and four batting titles. In 2012, Cabrera became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to achieve baseball’s Triple Crown as he led the league in home runs, batting average, and runs batted in.
He has won two Most Valuable Player awards, first in 2012 and then again in 2013.
Now Cabrera is climbing his way up the all-time statistical leaderboards in baseball history, clobbering his 500th career home run during Sunday’s contest in Toronto against the Blue Jays. He has victimized Phil Hughes the most of any pitcher in baseball, crushing 7 home runs of the now-retired right-hander. Former Rays ace is tied for fourth, with Cabrera launched four long balls off of Big Games James.
Against the Rays overall, Cabrera has hit 21 home runs, 8 of which at Tropicana Field. After his walk-off against the Devil Rays in June 2003, Cabrera has added 6 more walk-offs to his portfolio. His latest also came against the Rays, nearly 14 years to the date of his original homerun, when he took former and now current Ray Tommy Hunter deep to give the Tigers a 5-3 victory.
Miguel Cabrera, now in the twilight of his career, will continue his ascension up Major League baseball’s all-time leaderboards. With his 500th home run out of the way, the big milestone for Cabrera will be his 3,000th hit. Entering play on Monday, Cabrera is just 45 hits away from reaching that goal and reaching another one of baseball’s vaunted achievements.