DAVE SKRETTA,AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Miguel Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to achieve the Triple Crown in the AL Central-champion Detroit Tigers’ 1-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.
Cabrera went 0 for 2 with a strikeout, then left in the fourth inning of the regular-season finale. He received a standing ovation from the opposing fans.
He finished with an American League-leading .330 average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs, becoming just the 15th player to achieve the milestone and the first since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Max Scherzer pitched four innings for Detroit to test his sore right shoulder ahead of the playoffs, which the Tigers will open Saturday at home against Oakland. The bullpen took over from there, with Luis Marte (1-0) picking up the win and Luke Putkonen his first career save.
Austin Jackson drove in the only run off Royals starter Luis Mendoza (8-10).
The outcome of the game was secondary to Cabrera’s historic accomplishment.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig offered his congratulations, calling the Triple Crown “a remarkable achievement that places him amongst an elite few in all of baseball history.”
“Miguel has long been one of the most accomplished hitters in the game,” Selig said, “and this recognition is one that he will be able to cherish for the rest of his career.”
The crowd at Kauffman Stadium gave Cabrera a standing ovation before he flied out in the first inning. He struck out in the fourth inning but remained in the game, allowing Tigers manager Jim Leyland to remove him with two outs to another standing ovation.
Cabrera high-fived his teammates as he descended into the Detroit dugout, and then sheepishly walked to the top step and waved his helmet, almost as if he’d been playing at home.
“I would say without question he’s enjoyed it. How could you not enjoy what he’s done if you’re a baseball player?” Leyland said before the game. “I would also add to that I doubt very much, knowing him, that he necessarily enjoys all the extra attention.
“It’s kind of out of his realm in personality, to be honest with you.”
Cabrera’s milestone wasn’t official until the Yankees pinch hit for Curtis Granderson in their game against the Boston Red Sox. Granderson had homered twice to reach 43 for the year, tied with the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton and one shy of Cabrera.
Cabrera finished four points better than the Angles’ Mike Trout, his biggest competition for MVP, to win his second straight batting title. Cabrera was the runaway leader with 139 RBIs.
“When he’s over the plate, he can do anything. He’s the best hitter in the game,” Trout said. “I think his approach, the way he battles with two strikes — you leave one pitch over the plate that at-bat and he’s going to hit it. He had an unbelievable year.”
The year Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown, he was part of Boston’s “Impossible Dream Team,” which won the AL title and reached the World Series for the first time in more than two decades.
The Hall of Fame outfielder said in a statement, “I am glad that (Cabrera) accomplished this while leading his team to the American League Central title.”
Indeed, the Tigers had already wrapped up their division, allowing them to line up their pitchers and rest some of their regulars for their postseason opener on Saturday against AL West champion Oakland, which clinched its division by beating Texas earlier in the day.
Justin Verlander will start for Detroit in the first game of the series.
Scherzer was not expected to pitch after he twisted his right ankle in the celebratory scrum on Monday night. He threw from flat ground Tuesday and decided to pitch the regular-season finale, testing out a sore shoulder that caused him to miss his last start.
The right-hander, who is 16-7 on the season, ended up throwing 75 pitches in four innings, allowing three hits and walking two. Scherzer also struck out three.
He was gone by the time the Tigers finally coaxed a run across.
Omar Infante led off the fifth inning with a single, swiped a pair of bases and then trotted home from third when Jackson doubled in his final at-bat of the night.
The bullpens shepherded the game to its conclusion, allowing the Tigers to finally head into a joyous visiting clubhouse and celebrate Cabrera’s memorable night.
“A quality guy like he is, it couldn’t happen to a better guy,” said the Royals’ Mike Moustakas. “It’s awesome to have a front seat and watch this. It’s great for the game.”
NOTES: Yastrzemski had a .326 average with 44 homers and 121 RBIs when he won the Triple Crown. … The Tigers finished the season 88-74. Kansas City finished 73-89. … The Royals will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Kauffman Stadium when they play their home opener next season.
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