By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Miguel Cabrera is running out of ways to surprise people.
Home runs are expected. Multi-hit games are hardly unusual. Great plays at third are an overlooked bonus. One of the few things Cabrera has not done is look like his typically impressive self immediately upon returning from an injury. Then again, he has not had the opportunity often, having only missed four straight games twice in his decade-long career.
That was the situation Cabrera faced entering Saturday’s game. He walked to the plate against Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Raul Valdes, who was starting in place of injured Cliff Lee. Cabrera took a strike. He took a ball. Then he launched a home run to left.
“He’s just unbelievable,” Tigers reliever Evan Reed said. “It fires everybody up. The guy’s playing through everything he’s playing through. That’s his first swing he took in four days of live pitching. He’s just amazing. Yeah, it fires everybody up. It makes everyone just appreciate him. Everybody just appreciates watching him and everybody wants to be great also.”
As if the homer were not sufficient, Cabrera added an RBI single the next inning. The only at bat during which he did not reach base came in the fourth, but even his ground out scored a runner.
“If you miss a day in baseball, it kind of sets you back a little bit, and Miggy missed four days, and he has no set back – that’s weird,” Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter said with a laugh. “This guy’s unbelievable. He’s the best hitter on the planet and I enjoy watching him play.”
Cabrera leads the major leagues with a .361 batting average, 29 points better than the second-best average of Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals. Cabrera also has an MLB-high .455 on-base percentage. His home run Saturday put him within five of MLB leader Chris Davis, who has 37 to Cabrera’s 32, but Cabrera retook the lead in RBI after recording three in Saturday’s game. He now has a 99-97 edge over Davis in that category.
Davis had 37 home runs at the All Star break, while Cabrera had 30. Since then, Davis has not added to his total. Cabrera, despite being hurt and missing four games, has already hit two more.
Saturday’s slam came after four days away from live pitching. At this point, though, teammates are past being shocked.
“It can be a pitcher throwing his out pitch in the right location, and he’ll hit it for a home run,” Tigers starter Max Scherzer said. “It just doesn’t surprise you anything he does. He’s obviously the best.”
The only person not raving about how incredible Cabrera is? The slugger himself. He said that in his days away he worked in the cage so he would not lose his swing, that he felt okay Saturday and just tried to go out and play. Once he got in, he really did not want to leave, even with the Tigers ahead 10-0.
“It’s not my decision,” Cabrera said. “When you play, you want to stay always. Sometimes you’ve got to be smart, and Skip decided to take me out.”
For his part, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he usually is uncomfortable taking players out with large leads, that he would rather make such changes with big deficits.
“[When] you get behind so much, you’ve probably got a better chance of catching up with the other guys because they’re hungry to play and the other guys are tired and they’re getting beat up or something like that,” Leyland said. “I’m usually just the opposite, but when you’ve got injuries involved, precautionary reason, it makes a lot of sense.”
There was no hard and fast response on whether Cabrera would be back in the lineup Sunday, but the slugger seemed cautiously optimistic.
“I hope so,” he said. “I hope so.”