A special season for Tigers' Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers has Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers has a laugh with Reggie Jackson and Curtis Granderson #14 of the New York Yankees prior to game one of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on Friday in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Sept. 30, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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There has been plenty of discussion about whether Justin Verlander deserves to be the Most Valuable Player in the American League. It is an interesting debate, based on the merits of giving the award to a pitcher and whether he is more deserving than, say, Yankees centerfielder Curtis Granderson. The real question, though, might be whether Verlander is the Most Valuable Player on his own team.

Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera had the kind of season that often spells MVP. He won the American League batting title with a .344 average, hitting better than .400 after the start of August. He had 30 home runs, 105 runs batted in and the respect of Verlander and the rest of the Detroit team.

"I never thought I would win the batting title. I was fortunate to win. I realized I got close the last two weeks," said Cabrera, 28, who was fourth in the lineup as the Tigers opened the Division Series at Yankee Stadium Friday night. "We were playing for home advantage.

"I go out there and do my job every day," he said in a matter-of-fact way that was totally unlike his valley-and-peak season.

At the start of spring training, Cabrera was on the mind of every fellow Tiger for all the wrong reasons. He missed the first workouts after having been arrested in Florida on suspicion of drunken driving. That led to counseling sessions for Cabrera, who previously battled a drinking problem. The Tigers promised to support him and welcome him back.

Cabrera returned the favor, showing maturity and responsibility. He missed a few days in August, for paternity leave. He came back strong after that, too.

By completing his own Tigers Triple Crown -- in previous seasons, he had led the league in home runs and RBIs -- he justified the appraisal of then-Marlins teammate Derrek Lee, who said during the 2003 World Series: "He's The Natural. Nothing bothers that guy."

Delmon Young had always been respectful of Cabrera as an opponent, but he developed an entirely new appreciation after he was acquired from the Twins on Aug. 15. "You get to see from the internal side how seriously he takes the game, how hard he works and everything," Young said. "Being in here on a daily basis, you see what a student of the game he is and how smart he is with his swing and his technique. He has a plan. He sticks to it all the time.''

Young bats in front of Cabrera and rarely is walked because, he said, pitchers know Cabrera is in scoring position once he gets to the plate. "He's a good teammate, a good guy,'' Young said. "He's reliable. He's a team leader. It's a lot of fun to play with him because even though he's not a 35-year-old vet, he has got eight years in. He knows when to joke around and when to be serious."

Now is the time to be serious, his first time back in the postseason since he helped the Marlins win the World Series at Yankee Stadium eight years ago. "I've got a lot of good memories," said the valuable player who wants to collect more of them.

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