A fewdays ago, longtime shortstop Orlando Cabrera announced he’s retiring from baseball after 15 seasons.
When news like this happens, it’s natural to look back on a player’s career, and for me that means putting together a list of career highlights. This list includes the greatest and most memorable games Cabrera played in, his personal bests (and some worsts), as well as some oddities he was on hand for and great moments by other players that occurred in games in which he participated.
Cabrera in his element – fielding the ball.
Basically, it’s a list of Orlando Cabrera’s best “I was there for that game.” Here they are, in order:
Sept. 3, 1997: Cabrera makes his major league debut, and it comes in a great game, too. The Expos top the Red Sox, 1-0, in a game featuring a total of three hits. Montreal only has one against Boston’s Aaron Sele, but it’s a home run. Meanwhile, Montreal pitcher Carlos Perez tosses a two-hit shutout. Entering as a mid-game replacement, Cabrera grounds out weakly to the pitcher and then strikes out.
July 21, 1998: Against Philadelphia’s Mark Portugal, Cabrera belts the first of 123 career homers. It’s a solo shot in the bottom of the third inning.
July 30, 1998: Cabrera is off to the races. For the only time in his career, he triples twice in one game. In all, he goes 3-for-4 with a double, two triples, three runs, a sacrifice fly, an RBI and a strikeout as the Expos easily handle the Giants, 12-6.
May 31, 1999: As far as WPA is concerned, the clutchest swing of Carbrera’s career comes right here. At the plate with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing Arizona, 5-2, Cabrera swings at the first pitch from Byung-Hyun Kim and sends it to the seats for a game-tying home run.
July 18, 1999: David Cone makes history by throwing a perfect game against the Expos as the Yankees win, 6-0. Cabrera bats ninth and thus become the 27th out when he pops up in the ninth.
May 14, 2000: It’s one of the wildest slugfests of all time, and the Expos win it, topping the Cubs, 16-15. Montreal wins by scoring three in the bottom of the ninth, which came right after Chicago got four in the top of the ninth, which came right after Montreal got four in the eighth. I told you it was wild. Cabrera is 2-for-5 with an RBI single in the eighth.
July 1, 2000: How fitting. On Canada’s Independence Day, two Canadian-born pitchers square off—and in Canada. Montreal hosts the Marlins. Montreal’s Albertan starting pitcher, Mike Johnson, doesn’t have his stuff, allowing Florida and British Columbia’s very own Ryan Dempster to win it, 6-5.
July 3, 2000: This is probably the greatest performance of Cabrera’s career. He goes 4-for-5 with a pair of home runs, scores four times and drives in five as Montreal devastates the Phillies, 17-1. Cabrera ties personal one-game highs in hits, runs, and home runs. His 10 total bases is also a personal best, and with no ties this time.
Oct. 1, 2000: It’s as ugly a way to end a season as you can imagine. Montreal records its 95th loss of the year when the team loses in 13 innings to the Mets, 3-2. The winning run scores on a walk-off error committed by Cabrera’s infield mate, Geoff Blum.
May 13, 2001: Coming to the plate with the bases loaded against Colorado’s Pedro Astacio, Cabrera hits a three-run triple. It’s the only bases-clearing triple of his life. He never hit a grand slam in his 190 times up with the bases loaded—this is as close as he’ll ever come.
May 17, 2001: There will be 296 times Cabrera leads off the game for his team, but this will be the only time he connects for a leadoff homer. It comes against LA’s Eric Gagne (before he became a closer, obviously). His WPA on the swing is 0.493. Despite his heroics, Montreal loses in 10 innings, 8-5.
June 17, 2001: Cabrera belts his first career walkoff home run. It comes with two on and none out in a 1-1 game in the top of the ninth against Toronto’s Paul Quantrill. Despite hitting only 123 career long balls, Cabrera will end his career with five walk-off home runs.
Sept. 20, 2001: According to WPA, this is the greatest game of Cabrera’s career. He goes 3-for-5 with a pair of double, five RBIs and a run as Montreal beats Colorado, 8-3. He singles home the tying run in the bottom of the seventh and hits a three-run double in the eighth to give Montreal the lead.
Sept. 22, 2002: It isn’t quite Cal Ripken, Jr., but it’s still rather impressive. After missing the previous pair of games, Cabrera takes the field today to begin a streak of 317 consecutive games played for the shortstop. He’ll start 312 of those games and appear as either a mid-game replacement or pinch hitter in the other five.
April 11, 2003: The Montreal Expos play their first home game of the season, and they’re nowhere near Montreal. In a first, a big-league game takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In front of 17,906, “Montreal” wins, 10-0, over the Mets. Cabrera is 0-for-4.
July 27, 2003: Behind Cabrera’s bat, the Expos top the Braves, 13-10. He goes 3-for-5 with a homer, stolen base and a career-best six RBIs. He hits a two-run homer and a pair of two-run scoring singles.
June 20, 2004: Almost exactly three years since the first time he did it, Cabrera launches a walk-off home run. It’s a two-run shot that gives the Expos a 4-2 win over the White Sox.
Red Sox tenure
Sept. 22, 2004: For the second time this year and third time ever, Cabrera hits a walk-off home run. It’s a solo shot in the bottom of the 12th inning against Baltimore for a 7-6 win. It’s the latest he ever homers in a game.
Oct. 8, 2004: ALDS Game Four: Cabrera has a legitimately lousy performance in a legitimately great game. A 10th-inning, two-run, walk-off homer by David Ortiz gives Boston an 8-6 win over the Angels to finish the sweep of the LDS. Cabrera, though, goes 0-for-5 with a strikeout.
Oct. 16, 2004: ALCS Game Three: It is Cabrera’s best personal postseason performance, but it happens in maybe the ugliest loss any of his teams ever endure in October. He’s 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs, but Boston loses 19-8 to the Yankees. That gives New York a seemingly insurmountable three-games-to-none lead in the series. But we all know what happens next, right?
Oct. 17, 2004: ALCS Game Four: Boston begins its historic comeback here. Cabrera drove in the first run and scored Boston’s second tally back in the fifth inning, but heading into the bottom of the ninth they trail, 4-3. Shortly after an RBI Bill Mueller single ties it, Cabrera comes to the plate with runners on the corners and only one out. Instead of being the hero, Cabrera fans on three pitches in a very ugly looking at-bat. Boston wins in extra innings as Cabrera is 1-for-6 in the game.
Oct. 18, 2004: ALCS Game Five: For the second straight game, Boston stages a late comeback and wins in extra innings to keep its dream alive. Again, Cabrera helps out early as he singles and scores to give Boston it’s first run. Though he gets two singles and a walk, he has his most trouble in his most crucial at-bat. With two on and one out in the bottom of the 11th, Cabrera bounces into an inning-ending double play.
Oct. 19, 2004: ALCS Game Six: It’s the Bloody Sock game, as Curt Schilling pitches Boston to a 4-2 win to even the series. Cabrera helps out by going 2-for-4 with a stolen base and scoring a run. The Red Sox will win the next game to clinch the pennant.
Oct. 27, 2004: World Series Game Four: Boston finally does it, clinching its first world title since 1918 by finishing off St. Louis with this 3-0 victory. On a personal note, it’s Cabrera’s least impressive offensive performance of the World Series, as he’s 0-for-5, but he becomes a world champion. It’s the only world championship of his career.
April 21, 2005: For the third time in fewer than 12 months, Cabrera smacks a walk-off home run. It’s a bottom-of-the-10th solo shot for a 6-5 win over Cleveland.
June 13, 2005: In the bottom of the fourth, Cabrera singles against Washington starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza for career hit No. 1,000. It took him 1,025 games. He’ll get his 1,001st hit later today, too.
Oct. 12, 2005: ALCS Game Two: It’s one of the stranger and more controversial postseason games in recent times. With two outs and none on in the bottom of the ninth in a game tied, 1-1, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski appears to strike out when he swings and misses at a ball in the dirt, but he decides to run for first. The ump agrees it’s a wild pitch, and Angels catcher Josh Paul has forgotten this rule, as he’s jogging off the field. Given new life, Chicago quickly scores for a 2-1 win.
For his part, Cabrera is 2-for-4 with a double in the game, though he flew out with two outs and a runner on third in the eighth inning.
Oct. 14, 2005: ALCS Game Three: For the only time in his life, Cabrera drills a postseason homer, driving in teammate Adam Kennedy in the sixth inning. Unfortunately, that’s all the Angels can do, as they lose, 5-2, to the White Sox. They’ll lose the next pair of games to end their season.
The Angels win, 4-1, with Cabrera lacing a pair of singles, scoring a run and driving in another.
Sept. 22, 2006: This year, Cabrera will lead the AL in sacrifice hits for the first of three times. Today, he lays down two in one game, the only time he ever does that.
June 18, 2007: Cabrera has a nice game, going 2-for-5, but he’s completely overshadowed by the man hitting just in front of him in the batting order, Chone Figgins, who has one of the best games in Angels history. Figgins is 6-for-6 with a stolen base, double, and triple—and not just any triple, but a walk-off triple for a 10-9 win over Houston.
Aug. 15, 2007: No matter that he’s 32 years old, Cabrera still has his best day ever on the bases, going 3-for-3 in steal attempts. He also successfully stole three bases on July 31, 2005, but also was caught once that day.
Sept. 16, 2007: Cabrera gets to see some baseball history, but I’m sure he doesn’t enjoy it. White Sox DH Jim Thome belts his 500th career homer, and it comes at a good time for Chicago. It’s a two-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth for a 9-7 win. For his part, Cabrera was 2-for-4 with a sacrifice hit.
Oct. 5, 2007: ALDS Game Two: Cabrera gets an RBI double for Anaheim in the second inning, but it’s not enough. Tied 3-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, Manny Ramirez belts a three-run, walk-off homer. Boston will win the next game to complete a sweep, and this series ends Cabrera’s days in Anaheim.
White Sox tenure
May 27, 2008: In the sixth inning against Cleveland, the White Sox do something no major league team has done in 21 years—pull off a triple steal, though it’s not intended. Reliever Ehren Wassermann tries to pick off the runner at first, but the runner bolts for second, and it’s off to the races with everyone advancing safely. Cabrera batted in the inning for Chicago but fanned.
Sept. 30, 2008: It’s the Blackout Game. The White Sox have apparently confused major league baseball with March Madness basketball, but no one minds. They need to win their last game of the season to force a replay of a rained-out game. When they win both of those, they end the year tied with the Twins for the AL Central. That forces this game at Comiskey, in which all fans show up wearing black in a sign of solidarity with the club. Chicago wins, 1-0, on a Jim Thome solo shot, and Cabrera is 1-for-4, but the ChiSox lose in the first round of the postseason.
July 19, 2009: Oakland’s Brett Anderson flirts with perfection against Anaheim, retiring the first 20 batters he faces. Unfortunately for him, Anaheim’s John Lackey is about as good, and the Angels win, 1-0, in 10 innings. Cabrera is 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a sacrifice hit.
July 20, 2009: Oakland gets redemption after yesterday’s tough loss. After falling behind 12-2 early to the Minnesota Twins, the A’s storm back to win, 14-13. Cabrera has three of the game’s 39 hits, including two doubles. He doubles in two runs in a seven-run seventh inning and scores a few minutes later on a Matt Holliday grand slam.
Aug. 13, 2009: The longest hitting streak of Cabrera’s career peaks at 22 games. It began back when he was with Oakland and is six games longer than any other stretch in his career. He’s gone 34-for-97 with nine doubles, a triple and a homer during this spell. That said, this is also what WPA considers to be the worst game of his career, as he goes 1-for-5 with a GIDP for a –0.379 WPA. With Minnesota trailing KC, 5-4, in the sixth inning, Cabrera bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Aug. 23, 2009: Cabrera’s Minnesota teammate Michael Cuddyer makes a bit of history for himself, banging out two home runs in the seventh inning during the Twins victory over KC. In between those blasts, Cabrera drives home a run of his own with a sacrifice fly.
Oct. 6, 2009: It’s one of the greatest games of the ages as Minnesota tops the Tigers, 6-5 in 12 innings, in a winner-take-all Game No. 163 for the AL Central title. Discussing all the dramatics would take far too long, but one key moment must be mentioned. With the Tigers up 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh and a runner on first, Cabrera steps to the plate and hits the most important home run of his career to give Minnesota a 4-3 lead.
Oct. 9, 2009: ALDS Game Two: It’s a rough loss for Cabrera and the Twins, as the Yankees score twice in the bottom of the ninth to tie it, 3-3, and then win it two frames later. It’s rough for Cabrera personally, as in the eighth and 10th innings, he comes up with two out and two runners on and both times makes the final out to end the inning. They’ll lose the next game as New York will finish off the sweep.
May 5, 2010: For the first time in a little over five years, Cabrera hits a walk-off home run. It’s against the Mets in the 10th inning for a 5-4 Reds win.
May 11, 2010: Cabrera doesn’t play in this game, which may have had a big impact on the day as it turns out. Against the Pirates, Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Cueto has the game of his life, retiring 27 of the 28 batters he faces. The only baserunner comes in the third inning when Ronny Cedeno hits an infield grounder off the glove of shortstop Paul Janish, the man replacing Cabrera in the lineup.
July 6, 2010: Johan Santana doesn’t need any teammates. Today, the Mets starting pitcher belts a home run and tosses a complete-game shutout against Cincinnati. Cabrera gets one of the three hits Santana allows all day.
July 10, 2010: This just might be the best pitchers’ duel of the 21st century. The Phillies top the Reds, 1-0 in 11 innings, but neither starting pitcher allows any runs. Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay allows five hits and a walk while fanning nine, but Travis Wood does better. He fans eight and allows just one baserunner in nine innings, a ninth-inning double by Carlos Ruiz. For his part, Cabrera has one of the best days of any batter, going 2-for-5.
Oct. 6, 2010: NLDS Game One: Roy Halladay makes history as he no-hits the Reds, baseball’s second postseason no-hitter. Halladay surrenders one walk on the day, but his longest battle comes in the seventh inning when Cabrera stretches an at-bat for eight pitches before grounding out. For the fourth consecutive year, Cabrera is in the postseason, and with a different team each time.
April 30, 2011: Cabrera hits a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Indians a 3-2 win over the Tigers. Including his handful of walk-off homers, this is Cabrera’s 14th and final career walk-off hit. He has a half-dozen walk-off singles and a trio of walk-off doubles as well as his five walk-off homers.
June 12, 2011: It’s a nice milestone for a player not normally known for his bat. In the top of the second inning against he Yankees, Cabrera hits one to the right side of Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter and comes away with an infield single for his 2,000th career hit.
June 20, 2011: Let’s try something new. In his 1,919th career game, Cabrera starts at second base. It’s his first career game there. He plays the full game in the first of five stops at that slot.
June 25, 2011: It’s one of the weird moments in baseball. The Indians lose, 1-0, to the Giants with the only run scoring on a balk. Yeah, that doesn’t happen too often. Cabrera is 0-for-4 on the day.
July 7, 2011: It’s one of the better ninth-inning comebacks you’ll see. Cleveland enters the bottom of the ninth trailing Toronto, 4-0. They rally for five runs, the last four scoring on Travis Hafner’s walk-off grand slam. That makes Cabrera feel better about his ending an eighth-inning rally by grounding into an inning-ending double play.
Sept. 23, 2011: Playing in his final game, Cabrera joins a select group of baseball veterans: those who homered in their swan song game. Cabrera does it in the fifth inning, joining Don Mattingly, Jackie Robinson, Tony Phillips, Ray Lankford, Todd Zeile, Albert Belle, Jim Edmonds, Will Clark and Ted Williams as men who took one out in their last game.
While some of those guys homered in their last at-bat, Cabrera came up twice more. He singled for his 2,055th and final hit in the seventh and then flew out in the ninth to end his career. There are worse ways to finish up one’s diamond days.