8/10/2013 6:07 P.M. ET
Miggy transcending MVP conversation
No debate needed when it comes to one-of-a-kind Tigers slugger
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- With Miguel Cabrera, the Most Valuable Player debate is no longer necessary.
What we are looking at now with the third baseman of the Detroit Tigers is more along the lines of a legend in the making.
Over one night and a following afternoon at Yankee Stadium this weekend, Cabrera has not only demonstrated again his immense ability, but has created classic baseball moments that are going to have lives of their own.
As great as Cabrera's Triple Crown season of 2012 was, his numbers this year are even better. Any argument against his American League MVP candidacy this season will require both a search party and considerable imagination.
The Tigers, meanwhile, will provide the suitable team achievement as a context for the MVP Award, by winning the AL Central. They have been overpowering lately, winning 12 straight games before they hit New York, losing one Friday night, then quickly getting back on track with a 9-3 victory Saturday.
Even in what turned out to be a 4-3, 10-inning defeat Friday night, Cabrera made lasting memories. With two outs, one on in the ninth, the Tigers down two runs and facing the closer of all closers in Mariano Rivera, Cabrera fouled two pitches sharply off his left leg. He appeared to be in considerable pain, and there was some question whether he could continue.
Not only could he continue, but one strike away from defeat, he crushed a two-run, game-tying homer to center off Rivera.
"It was a battle, you know," Cabrera said. "He is the best of all times. Finally he made a mistake on a pitch, and I was able to get it out. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. I was lucky."
"That's one of those special moments for this season and one of them probably for all times," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "You've got the best closer of all times and the best hitter in the Major Leagues this year. That's pretty good."
The Yankees, too, were suitably impressed.
"That guy, he's amazing," Alex Rodriguez said. "Everyone thought he was dead. It was like the movies, you've got to shoot him to make sure he's dead. I knew he wasn't coming out of the game. I said, 'Don't fall for that bait of limping around.' He's a dangerous guy."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Cabrera: "I've had a chance to manage him, I've seen him get hit, thinking he would come out of the game, thinking that he wouldn't play the next day, and sure enough, he was in there. So one of the things I was very impressed by Miguel when I managed him in 2006 was not only was he talented, he was tough. He doesn't come out of games.
"He has a lot of talent, but I think it's his plan. He understands what he needs to do each at-bat. He knows how pitchers are going to approach him, and he adapts to that. He adapts to ballparks -- you look at this place, you know he's going to try to go to right a lot of times. Here's a guy, when you look at him, he's not on the end of the bat, he's not swinging as hard as he can -- he's fouling off tough pitches, he's prolonging at-bats. He just has a really good idea of what he wants to do."
You could see what Girardi was talking about on Saturday. On one at-bat, Cabrera would display discipline by taking pitches inches off the outside corner. In another at-bat, there was a Phil Hughes fastball that appeared to be seriously inside, somewhere in the vicinity of Cabrera's left knee. But Cabrera got the barrel of the bat on the ball and sent the pitch over the left-field wall for his 35th home run of the season.
"I've seen him hit pitches that are down and in over the right-field fence," Leyland said. "That is what's even more amazing. He's smart. He's got a good feel for what they are trying to do to him. He knows they're going to pound him some [inside], so he's smart enough to look there once in a while."
"I've probably never seen that in the big leagues," said Tigers starter and Saturday's winning pitcher Anibal Sanchez. "I'm glad that guy is part of my team."
Right fielder Torii Hunter, who hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs Saturday, smiled when asked about Cabrera's homer.
"It was a ball," he said. "The dude is unbelievable, man. He knows how to make adjustments. Once you think you've got him -- 'Yeah, I know where to pitch him' -- nah. He figured that out already. So go somewhere else.
"Miguel is definitely the best hitter on the planet. No matter who you are on the mound, be careful."
Cabrera's only apparent discomfort at the ballpark, apart from physical ailments, is in talking about himself. His leg was still painful from the foul balls, he acknowledged and he was getting a lot of treatment. But asked how he hit the home run off Hughes, he said:
"I don't know. I just go out there and play, man. It's not about talk. It's about go out there and play. We're winning, that's what it's all about.
"I'm the kind of person who lives day by day, trying to get better every day, try to find a way to help your team win. You live by what people say, you're not going to do your job.
"If you worry about what people are going to say, whether it's good or bad, it takes away the focus on what you're going to do. I don't want to talk about that stuff."
The truly enjoyable part of the last two weeks, Cabrera indicated, was watching his team win 13 of the last 14 games. That was a really good time for him.
Cabrera is one of a kind, in more ways than one.
"He just sees the world through a different set of eyes than a lot of people," Leyland said. "He sees the ball quicker, he sees the spin quicker, whatever -- I don't know how to explain it, but he's different. The best part of it is he swings like a little guy, but hits like a big guy. You very rarely see him out of control swinging a bat. He swings the bat like a little guy, but he gets the results of a big guy. That's pretty good."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.