August 19, 2013 at 10:18 am

Bob Wojnowski

Miguel Cabrera taking place as Detroit's most dominant athlete ever

DetroitWe have a crisis here. With six weeks remaining in the season, we’re running low on angst and adjectives. If you have any new words to describe Miguel Cabrera, I’m taking all suggestions.

This is a thunder show for the ages, and I’m not sure which is more enthralling — Cabrera’s mightiness or the joy he takes in doing it. Here was Max Scherzer continuing a brilliant run, now 18-1 after the Tigers pounded the Royals, 6-3, Sunday. And yet, the indelible image again was of Cabrera, who’s just merciless.

He’s the best hitter in baseball and one of the best ever, and that’s no news flash. But I’m prepared to add this: He’s the most dominant Detroit athlete of my lifetime (and probably yours). We can debate Barry Sanders, Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman and Isiah Thomas over beers, but what Cabrera is doing is virtually unprecedented.

He did it again to the Royals Sunday, slugging a two-run homer on the first pitch he saw. The night before, he slugged the winning homer on the last pitch he saw, which set off a delirious celebration at Comerica Park, capped by Prince Fielder’s water-bucket dousing of Cabrera.

The first-place Tigers won three of five against the charging Royals and have risen to the best record in the AL (73-51). And ever since a series of bumps and muscle strains threatened to stop Cabrera, he’s been borderline unstoppable, as if the injuries somehow strengthened his resolve.

Incredibly, he has powered his way back into contention for another Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average (.360) and RBIs (120). His 40 home runs trail Baltimore’s Chris Davis by five, and yet opposing managers still pitch to him with first base open.

Best right-handed hitter

You pitch, you pay.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jim Leyland said. “(Former Cardinals manager) Tony La Russa called me the other day and said, ‘Make sure you’re enjoying that, because it’s unbelievable what he’s doing.’ He’s the best right-handed hitter I’ve ever had, by far, and (Barry) Bonds was by far the best left-handed hitter. And I don’t know which one was better.”

Cabrera’s name is entering discussions with such luminaries as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Albert Pujols, but please don’t ask him to join the conversation. One of his best traits is his team-first mentality, an almost maniacal disdain for personal acclaim. It’s reflected in his smart hitting approach, his willingness to draw walks and settle for singles, if necessary.

As he sat at his locker Sunday, he sported a raw welt on his right thigh and a nasty mass of bruises on his left shin. He missed seven games earlier but didn’t go on the disabled list, and probably won’t now. The aches make running painful but don’t slow his swing, and he said he was getting closer to 100 percent.

But inquire about his standing as one of the game’s greats and he’ll gladly take the intentional pass.

“Nah, I don’t like that question,” he said. “You guys talk about it, all I do is play baseball and try to win games. Don’t put me on that spot.”

Pressed on whether he ranks with the all-time best, he smiled and twirled his right index finger in circles by his head. Crazy notion? Not really.

Doing it with 'magic'

Cabrera would rather joke with teammates and playfully lighten the pressure. He won a World Series in Miami in 2003, but this has become a singular quest, and it could cement him forever in Detroit lore. Sanders played 10 spectacular seasons for the Lions and never won a title. The Red Wings stars almost deserve a separate category because the team was so good for so long.

But Cabrera is doing things that have everyone marveling. Shortly after his home run Sunday, fellow major leaguers took to Twitter to pay homage. From the Indians’ Jason Kipnis: “Dear Miggy … You’re making the rest of us look bad. Knock it off! — MLB Hitters.”

Just a week ago, Cabrera hit two dramatic ninth-inning home runs off Mariano Rivera.

“It’s his intelligence,” Torii Hunter said. “You would think because he’s a power guy, he’d just take a chance and swing at everything. But he has a plan, he knows what the pitcher is gonna do to him and what adjustment to make. It’s just sick what he’s doing. And I don’t know how, because you can’t get in that man’s mind.”

Doesn’t mean we don’t try. Asked how he hones his hitting eye, Cabrera grinned.

“Magic,” he said. “Why you going to tell everybody what you do? You got to keep it a secret.”

Scherzer views it from both sides, as a teammate and a pitcher. He was masterful again, lowering his ERA to 2.82, and he saw the conundrum the Royals faced. Fielder seems to be getting his swing back, which partly explains why these poor managers keep pitching to Cabrera.

Kansas City’s Ned Yost did it again in the third inning with a man on second and two outs, and Cabrera ripped an RBI single. He finally was intentionally walked in the fifth.

“I’d want to walk him every time,” Scherzer said. “He’s not just guessing at pitches, he’s reacting to what he sees. That’s what makes him scary.”

As scary as anyone we’ve ever seen. You pitch, you pay. No sense making it any more complicated than that.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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