Miggy belts No. 42 to lead in Triple Crown race
Tigers slugger is the first to lead all three categories this late since 1967
DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera's quest for the Triple Crown is now a lot more than a lofty thought. With his towering shot into the left-field seats at Comerica Park on Saturday for his 42nd home run of the year, it's now clearly in his grasp. His hitting over the past week shows no signs he's going to let it go.
"Miguel's locked in right now," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the 8-0 win in the series opener against the Twins at Comerica Park. "You can tell that Miguel is trying to win [the American League Central] division. I think he's trying to win the Triple Crown. And when he's locked in, there's no better."
Not since Carl Yastrzemski won the last batting Triple Crown 45 years ago has a player led his league in batting average, home runs and RBIs this late in a season, according to STATS LLC. Saturday's home run tied Cabrera with Texas' Josh Hamilton for the AL lead.
Cabrera has stood all by himself for the better part of a week in the other two categories, now with a .332 batting average and 131 RBIs.
Hamilton is out through at least the weekend with a sinus issue. Add in Cabrera's .423 (22-for-52) average with five home runs and 21 RBIs against the Twins this year, and the five remaining games between the clubs this season, and Cabrera has a real chance to build some distance.
The Tigers and Twins play a day-night doubleheader on Sunday -- due to Friday's rainout at Comerica Park.
To Tigers catcher Alex Avila, it was less a question of whether Cabrera would take the lead in all three, but when it was going to happen.
"You knew it was going to happen," Avila said. "He's amazing. It doesn't surprise me anymore, and it really shouldn't surprise people that watch him every day, how good he is.
"People need to start taking notice nationally now. It hasn't been done in years, the Triple Crown."
That attention is starting to build. At least one out-of-town writer was at Comerica Park profiling Cabrera, and he was a big topic on the FOX Network broadcast Saturday afternoon.
As much as Cabrera tries to avoid reading about or watching baseball down the stretch, it's becoming tougher for him to avoid.
"I have to keep working," he said. "I have to stick to my plan, try to get better. It's something special if it happens. I think I have to go out there and have fun and try to play my best baseball and try to play hard."
Cabrera grounded out to second in the opening inning before Minnesota starter Sam Deduno walked him in the third. He came up in the fourth inning against reliever Anthony Swarzak with one out and none on base, with the Tigers holding a 7-0 lead.
Swarzak, clearly trying to pitch carefully, fell behind in the count missing the outside corner before leaving a 3-1 fastball waist-high on the inside corner.
Cabrera hit a loft shot that kept carrying until it was over the left-field fence. He rarely hits those kinds of home runs, the sky-high ones, yet it was his second in five days.
"It looked like a golf ball that he hit," Twins manager Ron Gardnehire said. "He got one there and he's just incredible, that's for sure. He's a threat every time up."
It was Cabrera's sixth home run in his last seven games, more than he had in his previous 23 games combined. His home runs this week have come on everything from a chin-high fastball to a 68-mph curveball he drove 446 feet to left.
"I mean, you saw him today," Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla said. "He hits unbelievable pitches. He puts a great swing on like high fastballs. All I can say is he's unbelievable."
That tear has turned the Triple Crown from a dream to a strong possibility. While he has led the league in RBIs for much of the summer and has been in the mix for his second consecutive batting crown, he had to make up a lot of ground on home runs.
His second straight scorching September has done it. A year ago, his .429 average (39-for-91), six home runs and 21 RBIs in September helped Detroit cruise to its first division title in 24 years. After Saturday's performance, he's making this September look as easy as 1.234. That's his OPS for the month.
His nine home runs in September already have tied him for his highest total in a single month since August 2008, the year he won his only AL home-run crown. His .357 average (25-for-70) has put distance between himself and Angels rookie sensation Mike Trout in Cabrera's quest for his second consecutive batting title.
Yastrzemski batted .417 (40-for-96) with nine homers and 26 RBIs in September during his run in 1967. He has been quoted saying the Red Sox playoff chase that year with the Tigers pushed him.
Leyland believes Cabrera draws from that, too. But having seen his drive to the batting title last year, Leyland also believes the Triple Crown drives him.
"I think the pennant chase is the big thing," Leyland said. "The other thing is, last year, I can remember telling him at a certain stage, 'I want to see you win that batting title.' He got locked in so good, it was unbelievable. He was going for it, and he got it."