DETROIT – It has been about two months since I thought Miguel Cabrera could win the Triple Crown in consecutive seasons. He’s running away with a third straight batting title and the RBI crown. However, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has stayed comfortably ahead in the home run derby.
Cabrera would hit one to draw closer, and Davis would hit one to keep the lead safe. It happened time and again.
But now I’m a believer.
Cabrera hit his third homer in four games in Monday night’s 8-6 loss to the Oakland A’s, and has hit 11 this month for the Detroit Tigers. He has five games left to hit one more out and equal the most prolific homer month of his career. Cabrera hit 12 homers this May, besting his previous record of 10.
The only thing that can stop Cabrera from winning the Triple Crown is what happened in the seventh inning.
Cabrera came up with the Tigers trailing, 7-4, and runners on first and third with two out. Oakland reliever Danny Otero was the definition of uncomfortable as Cabrera strode to the plate with the Comerica Park faithful breaking into their “M-V-P!” chant. Otero stepped off the mound and tugged at his belt before taking the mound and fidgeting with his cap.
A’s pitching coach Curt Young jogged from the dugout to the mound, answering the 9-1-1 call from Otero. While Cabrera leads the majors in so many categories, he’d also lead in mound visits by a pitching coach or manager if such a statistic was kept.
After throwing two balls to Cabrera, A’s catcher Stephen Vogt stood up and waved baseball’s white flag – signaling twice for balls with his right arm extended. Cabrera was intentionally walked to load the bases for a slugger with 88 RBI, fifth-most in the American League. Prince Fielder sent a charge into the crowd with a screamer to deep center, but it was caught to end the rally.
It was Cabrera’s 76th walk of the season, but still one less than league-leader Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Cabrera walked only 66 times last season, when Fielder joined the Tigers and provided the best protection of his career. But Cabrera has become even better than he was last year, and could be walked with the bases loaded in the right situation.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon became the first skipper in 107 years to do that with Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton on Aug. 17, 2008. The Rays led, 7-3, and Hamilton represented the tying run with two out in the ninth. So, Maddon had Grant Balfour intentionally walk Hamilton to drive in one run and put the tying run on base. Dan Wheeler came on in relief to retire Marlon Byrd and justify the strategy.
Can it happen to Miggy?
“I have no idea,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, a sly smile crossing his face. “I don’t have to make that decision.”
Oakland manager Bob Melvin showed Cabrera great respect with Monday’s intentional walk. I sat down with Melvin after the game and asked if he would consider walking Cabrera with the bases loaded.
“It almost came up tonight, didn’t it?” said Melvin, grinning from ear-to-ear.
Torii Hunter came up with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth, with Oakland up by three runs. Had Cabrera been up instead of the batter in front of him, Hunter, might Melvin have given the signal to walk Cabrera?
“I am not going to tell you,” Melvin said, smiling some more.
So, I asked if he could tell me whether it was a definite consideration.
“You are going to consider all your options with Cabrera coming up,” Melvin said. “But there is no joy in walking Cabrera to get to Fielder – who handles lefties, too.” Fielder is batting .286 versus southpaws this season.
Cabrera is batting .359 with 130 RBI and 43 homers with 31 games to play. He’s on pace to hit 53 homers with 162 RBI, and well on his way to dwarfing the .330, 44 homers and 139 RBI of 2012.
Davis has 46 homers, and is all that stands in the way of Cabrera joining two of the game’s greatest hitters – Rogers Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1922 and 1925 and Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox in 1942 and 1947 – as the third to win a pair of Triple Crowns.
Davis has eight homers in August, and that’s pretty strong. But he’s lost three off his lead this month.
I asked Victor Martinez, who bats behind Fielder, if he now thinks Cabrera will repeat as the Triple Crown winner.
“Who knows?” Martinez said. “Davis is a great hitter; Miggy’s a great hitter. Only time will tell what is going to happen down this road.”