DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera won everything but the World Series.
That pretty much sums up the 2012 season for the Detroit Tigers.
Cabrera was named the American League Most Valuable Player by a surprisingly wide margin over runner-up Mike Trout. Cabrera won baseball’s first Triple Crown since Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Cabrera also took home the Hank Aaron Award as the most outstanding offensive performer in the league.
He batted .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. He topped every player in the majors in homers and RBIs, and only San Francisco Giants catcher and National League MVP Buster Posey posted a higher batting average at .336.
Just two players have won the Triple Crown, MVP and World Series in one season: Frank Robinson of the 1966 Orioles and Mickey Mantle of the 1956 Yankees. Cabrera was knocking on the door to join their select company, but Posey’s Giants swept the World Series in four games to deny Cabrera all the riches one player could accumulate in one season.
With five days off between sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS and Game 1 in San Francisco, Detroit’s hitters never found a rhythm and struggled miserably. They got shut out in Game 2 and Game 3, and scored just six runs in the Series.
The season ended with a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. Cabrera gave Detroit its only lead of the Fall Classic with a two-run homer off Matt Cain in the third inning of Game 4, but it all ended with an improbable final at-bat. Cabrera took a third-strike fastball down the middle from closer Sergio Romo, and the Giants celebrated at Comerica Park while chilled Tigers fans wandered out in a collective daze.
It was a nightmare ending to what had been a memorable season.
The Tigers rallied to overtake the Chicago White Sox in September after entering the season as favorites to run away with the Central Division. Cabrera put them on his shoulders down the stretch and carried them to the playoffs and an ALDS matchup with the hot Oakland A’s.
Closer Jose Valverde imploded in that series, but ace Justin Verlander had a look on his face after his team lost Game 4 that seemed to say he would take care of everything — which he did. Verlander won the deciding game, 6-0, to quiet the rowdy fans at the Oakland Coliseum. He gave up just four hits over nine innings, striking out 11 and walking one.
The Tigers humiliated the Yankees in the next round. Cabrera’s towering, two-run homer off ace CC Sabathia made it 4-0 in the fourth inning of the clinching Game 4, and had Detroit headed to the World Series for the first time since 2006.
There was a joyous on-field celebration at Comerica and a spirited clubhouse party afterward. Reliever Octavio Dotel and Cabrera sprayed as much of the non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice as anyone, and fans began buying up AL Championship t-shirts and hats in the streets outside the park.
That was the pinnacle moment for Detroit sports fans this year.
The Tigers had as much star power as any team in the game after signing first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year deal for $214 million just before spring training. A warm friendship began when Cabrera offered to move from first to third base to accommodate Fielder. The happy hugging and ritual gyrations between Cabrera and Fielder after wins and homers are lasting images of 2012.
Detroit was the only team in either league to land three players among the top 10 in the MVP voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America: Cabrera (first), Verlander (eighth) and Fielder (ninth).
Cabrera won his first MVP award by garnering 22 of 28 first-place votes and 362 points. Trout, the fleet Angels rookie outfielder who captured the imagination of baseball fans, got six firsts and 281 points.
Verlander couldn’t come close to the 24 victories he had in 2011, when he won the MVP and Cy Young Award. But he did go 17-8 and posted a 2.64 ERA with league highs in strikeouts (239), innings pitched (238 1/3) and complete games (six).
Fielder, who left the Brewers for the Tigers, was a tick below power production expectations. He had 30 homers and 108 RBIs while hitting a career-high .313.
Verlander also narrowly missed a second consecutive Cy Young. Tampa Bay’s David Price had 14 first-place votes and 153 points to Verlander’s 13 firsts and 149 pointss. It was the closest finish since Detroit’s Denny McLain and Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar tied and shared Cy in 1969.
All in all, it was a season with plenty of bows to take, with the Tigers failing to earn the prize they wanted most.
“We tried to win a ring for (owner) Mr. (Mike) Ilitch and (GM) Dave Dombrowski,” Cabrera said after the World Series. “They pull everything together. I am very disappointed. We did not play our best baseball, and we wanted to bring the Series win to Detroit.”
So it’s 28 seasons and counting since the Tigers won it all in 1984.