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Miguel Cabrera closes in on Triple Crown

The Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera rounds the bases

The Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the eighth inning of a game against the Minnesota Twins. (Sept. 29, 2012) Credit: Getty

Throughout baseball, every player is impressed by Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera's chase for the Triple Crown.

With one exception.

"I know a lot of people are watching now," Cabrera told USA Today sports this past week. "I've had more attention the past two weeks than I had the whole season. This is about the Detroit Tigers and us getting to the playoffs. It's not about me."

Sorry, Miguel. Yes, the Tigers are trying to get to the playoffs. And if they get there, they might face the Yankees in the first round for the second straight season.

But teams try to get to the playoffs every year. What Cabrera is chasing hasn't been done since 1967, when Boston's Carl Yastrzemski led the American League in batting (.326), home runs (44, tied with Harmon Killebrew) and RBIs (121).

"Well, somebody's got to do it," the reclusive Yastrzemski told reporters Wednesday at Fenway Park. "Whether it's Cabrera this year, or it's going to be next year, or the year after. I'm surprised that it's gone on this long, to be perfectly honest. So it's going to happen."

Actually, if it doesn't this year, it might not for a long time. It has happened only 13 times in baseball history since 1900.

Cabrera is batting .327 with 43 home runs and 136 RBIs after hitting a three-run homer in the Tigers' 6-4 win over the Twins Saturday.

He was leading in batting average (Joe Mauer was second at .320) and RBIs (Josh Hamilton had 125). Cabrera is tied with the Rangers' Hamilton for the home-run lead.

The regular season ends Wednesday. As the Tigers battle the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central crown, the eyes of the baseball world also will be on the 29-year-old Cabrera whether he likes it or not.

"I'm really hoping he gets it," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "That's phenomenal. To be able to witness that firsthand -- a little bit too close sometimes -- but to be able to witness that, when was the last time, how many years ago? Above all, I'm a baseball fan, I just love what he's doing. He's been at another level right now."

A-Rod once was at that level. He twice led the AL in homers and RBIs in the same season. In 2002, he had 57 and 142 for Texas with a .300 batting average. Boston's Manny Ramirez led the league in average at .349.

In 2007 with the Yankees, Rodriguez hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs. He batted .314; Magglio Ordoñez of Detroit was the league leader at .363.

"I wouldn't want to say is the toughest part," Rodriguez said. "The combination of what he's doing is the toughest part."

The Yankees might find pitching to Cabrera the hardest part if they meet in the playoffs. He has incredible regular-season numbers against the Yankees' top four starters (CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes). Against that quartet, Cabrera is 27-for-67 (.403) with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs.

"There is no way to get him out," Sabathia said. "You just have to move the ball around and hope he mis-hits it."

Cabrera has achieved a sort of career Triple Crown -- he led the AL in batting average in 2011 (.344), home runs in 2008 (37) and RBIs in 2010 (126). But he has never before put it together like this, for a variety of reasons.

Cabrera has had a well-publicized battle with alcohol. He was arrested in 2009 after a domestic dispute (he eventually was not charged) and again in February 2011 for drunken driving in Florida (to which he pleaded no contest and received probation and community service). But he has undergone alcohol-abuse counseling and the Tigers have stood by him.

"There's so much that has changed, so much to be thankful for," Cabrera told USA Today this past week. "I know people want me to win the Triple Crown. People want me to win the MVP. Hey, we win the World Series and I don't get a hit the rest of the season and I'll be the happiest man in the world. The Triple Crown, or any of that stuff, is not my focus. My focus is on winning. I just hope people can be happy with that."

The Tigers added Prince Fielder for $214 million as a free agent in the offseason, which moved Cabrera from first base to third and gave him protection in the batting order.

"He's always been this good," Sabathia said. "But any time you've got a guy like Prince behind you, that can't hurt. But I think he's always been this good from my experience pitching against him."

It's not just Yankees stars who are marveling at Cabrera's chase. It has even permeated to New York's other team in the other league.

"It's a joke. It's frightening," Mets first baseman Ike Davis said. "There's only a couple people in the league who can even think about doing that, and he's one of them, for sure. It's amazing. I don't know what else to say about it besides it takes a really special athlete to do that.

"You get injuries, you're sore, you didn't get a good night's sleep because . . . just life. Just not sleeping. Stress. I don't know how stressed you can get when you hit .350 and have 48 homers and 160 RBIs."

David Wright, who watched Cabrera play against the Mets with the Florida Marlins before Cabrera was traded to Detroit in 2007, said: "That's video game-type numbers that he's been able to put up. It's one thing to be locked in for a week or even a month or even a couple months, but to be locked in for an entire season, physically, it's next to impossible. Mentally, it's next to impossible."

With David Lennon

New York Sports