Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera boasting his full potential

Larry Lage
Associated Press

Detroit Miguel Cabrera hit a majestic, game-tying homer in the ninth inning the other night.

After he crossed the plate, the Detroit Tigers slugger pointed to
someone in the stands. Seconds later, he looked up in the same
direction, nodded and smiled just before walking into the dugout.

Cabrera declined to say the next day who it was that night at Comerica Park — perhaps trying to keep his story on the field.

“Don’t worry about it,” Cabrera said Wednesday.

The first half of the season has been worry free for Cabrera, the
talented first baseman who ended last season in embarrassing fashion
and has seemingly done everything he can to make that memory go away.

Through Wednesday, Cabrera was leading the American League with a .347
batting average and 73 RBIs and his 21 homers were one off the league
lead. If Cabrera can keep it up, he has a chance to be the fist player
to hit for the Triple Crown since 1967 when Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski
led the AL in each category.

Even if Cabrera falls short of the feat, he seems to have made some life-improving changes.

Near the end of last season, he got into a fight with his wife that
left him with a bruised and cut face and had a 0.26 blood-alcohol
reading on a Saturday morning when Tigers general manager Dave
Dombrowski picked him up at a police station.

Then, Cabrera went 0 for 4 and stranded six runners in a loss to the
Chicago White Sox on a night that Detroit could’ve won a division title
for the first time since 1987. His team became the first to lose a
three-game lead with four games left and miss the playoffs.

Cabrera told reporters at the beginning of spring training this year
that he had quit drinking and didn’t miss it, then looked and sounded
like a new man just before the season.

“I
feel good with what I’m doing right now with my mind and my game,”
Cabrera told The Associated Press during the last week of spring
training. “I want to prove to myself, not anybody else, what I can
still do.”

The 27-year-old Cabrera has proven he’s one of the best sluggers in baseball.

“He is more focused off the field, and that is helping him on the
field,” teammate Ramon Santiago said. “Nobody wanted to happen what
happened to him, but everything happens for a reason. A lot of people
talked to him about taking care of his body — on the team and outside
of baseball — telling him he can be the best hitter in the game.

“I told him, `Don’t stay out until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, then
come to the field with only one meal before a game.’ We depend on our
bodies — like machines almost — so you have to take care of your body
to be successful.”

The Tigers have
successfully bounced back from last year’s disheartening finish. They
are atop the competitive AL Central going into Friday’s series opener
at home against rival Minnesota in large part because of Cabrera’s
productive and clutch bat.

Cabrera leads
the majors with seven homers and 20 RBIs in the seventh inning or later
with the batting team ahead by one run, tied, or with the tying run on
base, batting or on deck, according to STATS LLC.

That helped get Cabrera picked to be an All-Star for the fifth time in
seven seasons. He’s also scheduled to be in Monday’s Home Run Derby.

“He’s a superstar, plain and simple,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Cabrera’s job has become a little easier because Magglio Ordonez is
producing ahead of him in the lineup and rookie Brennan Boesch keeps
smashing pitches behind him.

“In big
situations, you tell yourself not to let him beat you,” Twins manager
Ron Gardenhire said. “But, then you look around him. You’ve got the
Boesch kid just absolutely killing it and you’ve got Maggs in front of
him.

“Miguel is definitely one of the top
players in our league if not the top player. His numbers day in and day
out, year in and year out proves that.”

Since jumping to the majors from the Double-A level at the age of 20
when he helped the Florida Marlins win the 2003 World Series, the
Venezuelan has hit .314 with an average of 230 homers and 826 RBIs. He
hit a Marlins-record .339 in 2006 to join Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez
and Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg as the only players to hit 25 homers
and 50 doubles in a season before turning 24.

Cabrera averaged 32 homers and 115 RBIs while hitting .318 during his
last four seasons for the Marlins, putting up numbers in those
categories over a four-year span matched by only Pujols and Vladimir
Guerrero.

Detroit acquired Cabrera from
Florida during the winter meetings before the 2008 season — along with
pitcher Dontrelle Willis — gave up six prospects and invested $152
million in an eight-year contract in him.

Other that his infamous weekend at the end of last season, he has done what Detroit wanted.

Johnny Damon respected Cabrera from afar when he was playing for the
New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Now, he compares Cabrera with the
best of the best that Damon has seen up close.

“He’s probably the most talented teammate I’ve ever had,” Damon said.
“I played with Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and A-Rod. Miguel is in their
class, but I think he could end up a touch better.”

Received 07/08/10 05:41 pm ET