Can Miguel Cabrera Lead the Tigers to a Championship?


February 25, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman

Miguel Cabrera

(24) gives 2 thumbs up as he works out prior to the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Recent word out of Lakeland is that bullpen vagabond Octavio Dotel questions Miguel Cabrera’s ability to be a “team leader”. I will save my personal opinion on the subject of “team chemistry” for another post; however, I will share an anecdote to convey my thoughts about Cabrera and his status as a Detroit Tiger.

Sunday, August 5, 2012 – in what was the regular-season “Game of the Year”, at least to that point – Cabrera stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 10th. There were two out and Omar Infante, who had just tied the game at 8 with a two-run single, was at first.

This was truly a see-saw battle, and my wife, son, brother, sister-in-law, two nephews and yours truly had baked in the sun for 4+ hours agonizing over the culmination of a long baseball weekend. We had spent the previous two sultry summer evenings in Toledo, where the Mudhens managed one run (a solo homer by Danny Worth) in 18 innings. It appeared as if Worth and our bad fortune accompanied us to Comerica Park – Worth to play 3B and let Miggy DH on his gimpy ankle;  the luck – well, Max Scherzer gave up a couple of bloopers, one blast to nemesis Shin-Soo Choo, and struck out 9 in 5 uneven innings. Infante tied it with his first Tiger HR in 5 seasons and the bullpens took over.

When Austin Jackson led off the 9th with a triple, the stage was set for Infante to be the hero and send us home happy.  Alas, he fanned, and Manny Acta ordered intentional passes to Cabrera and Prince Fielder; then he brought in a 5th infielder to cut down the winning run on a grounder. All Quintin Berry needed to do was elevate one to the outfield, and he did hit the ball hard, directly to 1B Carlos Santana for an unlikely 3-2-3 double play. When Joaquin Benoit surrendered back-to-back jacks in the bottom of the 10th, the natives were restless, the Mrs. was cooked, the kids cranky, the dads tired and beerless (it’s a 2.5 hour drive home).

Wearily, we trudged toward the exits – fortunately, I managed to coax the family to watch the home half of the 10th from the standing room area above the RF bleachers. I stood my ground even though Tigers kryptonite – Tribe closer Chris Perez – got the first two outs. Alex Avila managed a walk, and Andy Dirks grinded out a free pass also. Jackson hit a hard grounder inside the bag at 3rd and suddenly, we sensed it…Omar didn’t waste his second chance, pasting a solid single to center to tie it up and send the 10,000 or so of us who stayed into delirium. The afternoon’s climax was yet to come.

When the ball left Miggy’s bat, it was on a trajectory that was so high that from our perch 450 feet or so away, it seemed impossible to carry out of the park. Trained at Tiger Stadium, where it was frequently impossible to follow a fly ball, I always focus on the outfielder; Shelley Duncan drifted back, reacting as I had – there was no way a ball that high could have enough juice – but his shoulder scraped the fence as he ran out of room and the ball bounced in the heart of the visitors’ bullpen.

A win worth more than the sum of its parts:  AJax was phenomenal, with 4 hits, including 2 triples, the table-setting two-bagger, running down balls in both gaps; Infante had 4 hits, Prince drove in two runs. Gerald Laird got ejected for arguing a call at 1st and the Skipper got run by Country Joe West for defending Laird. Punking Perez and sweeping Cleveland to put them 7 back made it a two-horse race. The 4th win in what would be a season-long 6-game streak, it kept the Chisox in close range at 1.5 games.

This past Sunday, it seemed like the right time to cue up the DVR and watch this game in it’s glory from start to finish. And it was glorious – the sun-splashed scene was a marvelous contrast to the winter whitescape outside the window. I enjoyed a cold craft-brew and recalled the hotness of the sun, the sensations of a summer weekend at the ball yard, and relived the ups-and-downs of an epic game.

The epilogue of the broadcast was revealing in another way. After the boys had spilled out of the dugout and rejoiced around home plate, FSD needed to interview the player of the game. Cabrera was adamant that Austin Jackson join him for the fete; bear-hugging him and dragging him out to share the accolades. Miggy took several moments to heap praise on AJax and his instrumentality in the victory, and was dogged in providing him an opportunity to say a few words. “Wee-dout him, I no get da las’ swing” – or something to that effect – was what Cabrera gushed.

Clearly, he understood the magnitude of the occasion, and could have hogged the spotlight. It was more important to him to share his success with a teammate, and be sure Jackson’s contributions did not go unnoticed.

Hollow locker-room speeches and spouting tired cliche’s to ink-stained wretches doesn’t make one a team leader. Clubbing game-winning homers on a bum peg, being a tremendous teammate, taking a young player under one’s wing,  compiling a 1.071 OPS in September during a pennant-race – that sounds like a good guy to have around the clubhouse.