DETROIT — What we are witnessing this week is the best hitter in baseball putting on a show unlike anything he’s ever displayed — even in winning the Triple Crown last season.
Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera did it again Thursday night, launching a majestic, two-run homer in the first inning. That made it four consecutive games with a homer, matching his personal best streak from 2004, when he played right field for the Florida Marlins.
He also added a run-scoring single in the 7-6 comeback win over the Minnesota Twins, and has six homers, 13 RBIs and nine hits in four games while batting .600 with five walks. In 2012, Cabrera’s top RBI total over a four-game stretch was 10 and his best home run total in four games was three.
Just when you thought Cabrera couldn’t get scarier for opposing pitchers, he’s become a wrecking ball like never before. And — get this — he’s on pace to shatter the game’s single-season RBI record that has stood for 83 years.
Cabrera is one away from the league home run lead with 14, and is running away from everyone in the majors with a .391 average and 55 RBIs.
He covers the whole plate, goes to all fields and has no real weakness.
There is only one way to pitch to Cabrera: at your own risk. Out-thinking him is nearly impossible.
All-time homer champion Barry Bonds told Bob Nightengale of USA Today this week: “You guys can analyze it all you want, but his hands aren’t quicker than anybody else or anything like that. He’s smarter than anybody. He knows what he has to do and recognizes pitches better than anyone.”
Bonds ruled the National League when Cabrera broke in with Florida, and I asked Cabrera after the game what those comments meant to him.
“That’s great, man,” he said with a wide smile. “He’s the best, you know. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. He’s the best, something very special.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he agreed with the observations of Bonds — whom he managed on the Pittsburgh Pirates — that Cabrera’s hitting IQ is what sets him apart.
“(Cabrera) knows what’s going on,” Leyland said. “He’s a very smart hitter, no question about it.”
Bonds proclaimed Cabrera “the absolute best” while allowing that if he stays healthy Cabrera “has a chance to have everything I did.”
And some things that Bonds and nobody else has accomplished.
Cabrera is on a pace for a career-high 54 homers with a major league-record 198 RBIs.
He is entering the land where immortals trod.
Chicago Cubs slugger Hack Wilson’s 191 RBIs have been baseball’s standard since 1930.
The last right-handed batter to win the three consecutive batting crowns Cabrera is shooting for was Rogers Hornsby, who led the National League six straight years, 1920-25.
The only Triple Crown repeaters have been Hornsby (1922 and 1925) and Ted Williams (1942 and 1947), and even they had two years or more between theirs.
And with Prince Fielder making teams pay for walking Cabrera, the best option with Cabrera has become scary, too. Fielder has followed the last five walks to Cabrera with five hits to score seven runs. He is third in league RBIs with 41 and on pace for 148.
“That’s amazing,” Cabrera said of Fielder’s consistency. “It’s a tough decision (to pitch to Fielder) and I take nothing for granted.”
Fielder said he understands the logic of pitching to him.
“Oh, yeah, any time someone’s hitting .400,” said Fielder, sitting back at his locker and grinning. “That means they want to pitch to me. They want to give me a strike, and that’s good.”
Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello knows what he would do.
“What they’re doing now is unbelievable,” Porcello said. “If I was on the mound, I’d want to walk both of them.”
The duo has combined to knock in 20 runs over the last four games, cementing their claim as the top 3-4 combo in baseball.
So, it’s hard to run from Cabrera. And hard to form any sort of game plan. He has pitchers between a rock and a hard place, and the only place he’s headed is Cooperstown.