SAN FRANCISCO - Melky Cabrera is a new marketing phenomenon: "Got Melk?"
He is piling up nicknames nearly as quickly as he is piling up hits. Melk Man. Melky Way. And the old standby from his Yankees days, Leche — milk in Spanish.
Cabrera has attracted quite the following at AT&T Park, where several men dress in 1950s-style "Melk Man" suits in support of San Francisco's hottest hitter.
Cabrera is surpassing everybody's expectations in his first season with the Giants, putting up such sensational numbers in a San Francisco-record, 51-hit May that he's now mentioned in the same breath as Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. He is drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn from his manager, too.
"Wow," Bruce Bochy said. "That's one of the most impressive months I've seen in all the years I've been in this game. That's how good he's been. He's been a pleasure. Defensively, what he's done with the bat, he's been a machine this month. It's hard to believe how many hits he's gotten and how consistent he's been."
Cabrera — who says "never in my life" has he had a month like this — is getting a kick out of it all, just don't try to slow him down to talk about his amazing month. Hid did oblige the "Melk Men" the other day by tossing them a ball.
Cabrera batted .429 in May with three homers, five triples, seven doubles and 17 RBIs. He hit safely in 25 of 29 games, getting a single in the eighth inning of Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to Arizona for his 51st hit. That matched Randy Winn for most hits in a month since the club came to San Francisco in 1958.
"Obviously, he's on fire," Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's on a roll."
Cabrera passed Mays and Cepeda in the process.
The retired Winn, who enjoyed meeting Cabrera at spring training this year, produced his 51 hits in September 2005.
"I'd love to say congratulations on a great month, on the 51 hits and to continued success — 51 hits, that's a lot of hits," Winn said Thursday. "I saw him this spring training and his swing looked great from both sides. He had a great year last year and he's kept it going. I just felt like everything was going my way that month. I was getting good pitches to hit and I wasn't missing them. If I made contact, whether hard or soft, it would find a hole."
Cabrera also set the San Francisco record for most hits in May, passing Mays' 49 from 1958. The "Say Hey Kid" has been around the clubhouse this week, and he regularly greets Cabrera with a friendly hello.
"I never thought I would break one of his records, but I would like to follow in the footsteps of a legend like Willie Mays," Cabrera said.
Just check out this four-game sample from last weekend's series at Miami: Cabrera went 9 for 18 with two home runs and seven RBIs, including a 4-for-4 performance Sunday in which he scored three runs.
"It's historic. It's really amazing what he's done this month," Bochy said. "I don't know if there was a better hitter during May. It's been fun to watch him hit, fun to watch his overall play. ... He reminds me of Tony Gwynn. He takes what they give him, he doesn't try to do too much up there. He has a calmness, there's no panic in him even with two strikes. He's just a great hitter."
While the Giants had the day off Thursday, Cabrera heads into a weekend home series against the Chicago Cubs hitting a sizzling .373. He's already projected as a likely San Francisco representative for the All-Star game at Kansas City in July.
"Increible" — incredible, said injured slugger Pablo Sandoval, who can't wait to return from surgery on his left hand to join Cabrera in the heart of the order. "He's a great player and a great athlete. We need that in this moment. He plays so hard."
Now, the Bay Area is all abuzz all about when the Giants might give Cabrera a contract extension — though he isn't pushing for it.
"I never think about that. I leave that to my agents," he said. "They're the ones who know. I never think about contracts, just about staying focused on baseball."
Cabrera came to the Giants in a trade with Kansas City last November that sent left-hander Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals. Cabrera — who signed a $6 million, one-year deal to avoid salary arbitration — batted .305 with 44 doubles, 18 homers and 87 RBIs last season.
And to think this is the same guy who was released by Atlanta following a poor 2010 season in which he hit .255 with four homers and 42 RBIs in 147 games. He then signed a $1.25 million contract with the Royals, earning another $250,000 in bonuses for plate appearances.
"Baseball is full of ups and downs. That's in the past," Cabrera said. "Things didn't go well for me, but thank God I'm here now and I'm very happy here. It was a bad year, but that's baseball. You have to be ready mentally and physically."
Cabrera became the first Royals player with at least 200 hits in a season since 2000, making big strides with his bat thanks to an improved focus on his fitness.
The 27-year-old Cabrera is dazzling with his defense in the outfield, too. He makes the routine catches and he makes the game-saving grabs. He has primarily been in left field, where Bochy has noticed Cabrera likes to add a little flair to his game whenever possible.
Cabrera's steady bat has given Giants fans a new face to cheer after the departure of 2010 NL championship series MVP outfielder Cody Ross to the Red Sox.
"I knew he was a pretty good player, a switch-hitter who can play every outfield position," Bochy said. "In all facets of the game he has been better than I thought. That's how good he has played."