DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera isn’t even treated like a real baseball player these days.
His opponents look at him more as a character from a video game. Imagine Bo Jackson from Tecmo Bowl — but with a bat in his hand.
“I made a great pitch to Cabrera, but he’s Miguel Cabrera,” one pitcher said recently. “My mistake came when I let him come up with runners on base.”
“Our game plan against Cabrera is simple. Don’t throw him any pitch that he might be able to hit,” a rival manager said. “Even if you don’t think he can hit it well, he hits it out.”
Sunday, Cabrera put an exclamation point on Detroit’s sweep of the Chicago White Sox with two more massive homers. The first one, a mere 426 feet, landed near the flagpole in the Chicago bullpen, but it was the second homer that people will remember. In the third inning, he joined the 300-homer club with a ball that entered the camera well in straightaway center field.
“I’ve been watching him for a couple years now, and it is still unbelievable,” Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson said. “You don’t get many chances to be on a ball club with a guy like that. It’s awesome.”
Cabrera is just the 13th player in major league history to reach 300 homers before his 30th birthday — a feat that eluded famed power hitters such as Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig. More important for Cabrera, he joins Andres Galarraga as the only Venezuelan players to hit 300 home runs.
“I focus on winning games, not personal numbers,” Cabrera said after the Tigers’ 6-4 victory over the White Sox on Sunday. “But for my country, this is special. Hopefully, a lot more players from Venezuela can follow us and hit 300. We want to see a lot more.”
Cabrera’s second homer was hit so hard that it took the Tigers PR staff several innings to give an estimated distance. Finally, the Tigers announced it had gone 457 feet — 9 feet shorter than his shot into the ivy against the New York Yankees on June 2.
That even impressed one of Detroit’s other home run hitters Sunday, Quintin Berry, who had hit the second homer of his career three pitches before Cabrera’s 299th.
“It’s unbelievable to watch him,” said Berry, who often joked that his only major league homers would be inside-the-park shots. “Dude has some of the most ridiculous pop I’ve ever seen. He’s the best player I’ve ever played with — he’s just amazing to watch day after day.”
Berry was even happier that his rare home run came right before one of Cabrera’s.
“I’m definitely telling everybody about going back-to-back with Miggy,” he said. “Got to let everyone know that one. We’re up there now — that’s 302 combined homers for us.”
And that wasn’t even Cabrera’s biggest shot of the week. Danny Worth took to Twitter Friday to say Cabrera had hit an even more improbable home run that day in batting practice.
“Miggy hit a ball over the fountain, out of the stadium dead central during BP today #unreal #besthitterinbaseball,” he posted, describing a ball that traveled more than an estimated 500 feet.
Of course, Cabrera is about a lot more than rocket-launch homers. He’s hitting .330 with 23 homers and 79 RBI, and his improbable move back to third base allowed the Tigers to plug a Victor Martinez-shaped hole at first base with Prince Fielder.
“You have to think that Detroit’s got the best 3-4 combination in baseball right now,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Cabrera’s probably the best hitter in the game, and Prince is probably the smartest.
“Miguel is tough with runners on base, but he’s just as tough with no one, while Prince is always looking for the right place to hit the ball in order to beat you. Those two are hard to deal with on a daily basis.”
The White Sox couldn’t handle them at all and now trail Detroit by 1-1/2 games in the American League Central. Detroit has won 13 of 15, including a 6-1 week against contenders Los Angeles and Chicago.
“This means a lot,” Cabrera said. “It means we have started playing good baseball, and we’re playing very good right now. Hopefully we can stay focused, win more games and stay right here.”
Right now, Cabrera is playing as if he’s got his video game set to a lower difficulty than everyone else in the major leagues. If he keeps it up, he might replace Justin Verlander as both the AL MVP and as the cover model for next year’s game boxes.