“Nick Lidstrom was the best Red Wings defenseman since …”
“Barry Sanders was the best Lions running back since …”
Those are two of the great Detroit sports debates, and in both cases there might not be an answer. Lidstrom’s one of the best defensemen in NHL history, and there have been few running backs that could ever do what Sanders did on a routine basis.
Miguel Cabrera is getting close to that category.
Last season, Cabrera won a Triple Crown with a season for the ages. Sunday night, he showed why he might do it again.
In his first at-bat against the Texas Rangers, he fell behind 0-2, worked the count back to full and then lined a single to left. Nothing spectacular, but something that a one-dimensional power hitter can’t do. The next time up, with a pair of runners on base, he blasted Derek Holland’s first pitch over 440 feet to right-centerfield.
“He’s got more opposite-field power than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Jim Leyland said on the ESPN broadcast — a sentiment he has expressed many times, even though he managed Barry Bonds in Pittsburgh.
The next time up, he did something even more impressive. He smashed a line drive up the middle — low enough that Holland ducked and threw up his hands in self defense. The ball didn’t hit Holland — it cleared the centerfield fence for Cabrera’s second homer of the game.
In the eighth inning, the Rangers didn’t have a reason to walk him — he came up with two outs and no one on base. So what did Cabrera do? Hit a 97-mph inside fastball over the centerfield fence for his third homer of the night.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said announcer Orel Hershiser, a man who knows something about pitching to superstars. “I don’t know he just did that. That was a 97 at his belly button, and he just pushed it over the centerfield fence. That might be a single for anyone else, and he hit it out.”
In the short term, it didn’t matter. A subpar outing by Doug Fister and a defensive collapse meant the Tigers lost 11-8, making Cabrera the first player in major-league history to go 4-for-4, hit three homers, drive in five runs, score four runs and lose.
In the long run, though, Cabrera is putting together one of the greatest stretches in franchise history. He’s hitting .389 this season, and since he came to Detroit, he’s averaging .326/.403/.580 with 200 hits, 38 homers and 125 RBIs for every 162 games. He’s only in his sixth season with the Tigers, but he’s now within one homer of Kirk Gibson for 10th place in franchise history.
Hank Greenberg had a stretch that compares with Cabrera’s, but that was in the days before World War II. So, yes, if you are a Tigers fan in your 80s or 90s, you have seen a hitter that has done something like this.
The rest of you? You are seeing something new — and something you might not see again any time soon.