DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera flashed his playful, boyish grin when pressed to explain how he’s doing what just some of the game’s greats have done.
“Magic,” he said, sitting in front of his locker as a handful of reporters encircled him.
While even those who watch the Detroit Tigers on a daily basis struggle to describe what Cabrera is doing and those on opposing teams can only marvel, Cabrera is creating his own place in baseball history.
Despite 50 years of experience in professional baseball, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he hasn’t seen anyone do what Cabrera is doing at the plate.
There’s a reason for that. No one has seen it.
Cabrera is the only player in major league history with at least 1,962 hits, 410 doubles, 361 homers and 1,243 RBIs at the age of 30 years and 4 months, according to STATS LLC.
The reigning Triple Crown winner has a shot to become baseball’s first player to lead a league in batting average, home runs and RBIs in consecutive seasons. Only Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby have twice won Triple Crowns in a career — Williams in 1947 and 1942; Hornsby in 1925 and 1922.
The defending AL MVP, whose banged-up body got a much-needed day of rest Monday, is leading the major leagues with a .360 average and 120 RBIs. Cabrera’s 40 homers trail only Baltimore’s Chris Davis, who hit his 45th Sunday.
“He’s the best player in baseball,” Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Maybe it is, but that might not be good enough to catch Davis to pull off an unprecedented feat with back-to-back Triple Crowns.
Cabrera became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner last year since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 by hitting .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs for the AL Central-division winning Tigers. Cabrera could easily surpass his home run totals from last year, and still not catch Davis.
He is connecting on pitches he isn’t supposed to hit, cutters several inches inside and off the plate and fastballs away high or low.
Bruce Chen hadn’t lost this season until he had to pitch against Cabrera on Sunday. After Cabrera sent Chen’s first pitch over the left-field wall, a day after he ended a game with a homer to right. The lefty didn’t want to give the slugger anything to hit in the third inning and liked what he saw coming out of his hand. Until Cabrera smacked it for an RBI single.
“I was going ‘Whoa, a good pitch. Not over the plate,”’ Chen recalled. “But he hit it like I left it in the middle of the plate, but I didn’t.”
Cabrera’s manager and teammates would say he knew what was coming from Chen, the latest in a long line of pitchers who have tried to pitch around a player for the ages.
“It’s almost like he’s a mind-reader,” Leyland said. “I’ve seen them try to pound him inside, and all of a sudden, he’ll fly open and hit one in the left-field seats. I’ve seen them stay away from him, and he’ll stay on it, and hit one in the right-field seats.
“It’s uncanny the way he has the ability to kind of sense what’s coming.”
In the Tigers’ 6-3 over Kansas City on Sunday, Cabrera joined Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx as the players since 1921 to have at least 40 homers and 120 RBIs while batting .350 or better through 116 games.
The Venezuelan is also part of another exclusive trio with Foxx and Albert Pujols as the only players in major league history with at least a .320 career batting average along with 350-plus homers at the age of 30 years and four months, STATS said.
Leyland said Cabrera is the best right-handed hitter he has ever seen, and Barry Bonds, whom he managed in Pittsburgh, is the top left-handed hitter. While Leyland compares Cabrera’s season to the excitement generated by George Brett’s chase for a .400 batting average and the since-stained pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season homer record by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the subject of the current story would rather sit out of the conversation.
“I’m here to play baseball and win games,” said Cabrera, who has led Detroit to an AL-best 73-51 record entering Monday’s games. “The other stuff, I don’t worry about.”
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