Cabrera enjoying postseason spotlight
Tigers slugger quickly put spring incident behind him
NEW YORK -- It's a distant memory now, foggy as Yankee Stadium became when a torrent of rain poured through Sunday's adventurous ninth inning. But it was only six months ago that superstar Miguel Cabrera found himself in the middle of controversy -- charged with a DUI, solemnly apologizing in front of the world and facing questions about whether he could continue to be the face of the Tigers.
Those questions are all but gone now, truncated by Cabrera's innocent sense of humor, erased by another MVP-type season and vanished as he thrives in the postseason -- a stage he's as comfortable in as any other player in baseball.
"I'm proud of him," Cabrera's good friend, teammate and confidant, Magglio Ordonez, said with a smile.
"It was a very unfortunate incident, and he dealt with it how he had to," Tigers president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski added. "I had no doubt that he was committed to trying to make it work."
Cabrera made it work better than anybody would've expected. Now, it's all about what he can do to help these Tigers overcome the Yankees to reach their first World Series since they got past them in 2006.
Game 2 of the American League Division Series -- a 5-3 victory that saw Cabrera hit a two-run homer and finish with three hits and three RBIs -- proved he can do a whole lot.
"He's a guy built for these moments," Ordonez said. "Miguel, he can carry this team to the World Series. He's that kind of player. He's amazing."
Cabrera made sure he interrupted Ordonez just before he uttered those words. In the visiting clubhouse, Ordonez's locker sits next to the door that leads to the trainer's room, so as Cabrera was walking through, he obnoxiously moaned "Magliooo!" to break his teammate's concentration. Then he walked into the interview room, looked around and said, "Hello? Hello? Hello?" to nobody in particular.
Miggy has turned the seriousness of these playoffs into one big joke -- because of his incredible talent and because of his child-like sense of humor.
Said manager Jim Leyland: "He's like a big kid, or a little kid, however you want to look at it."
Even after his Spring Training incident, teammates say that never changed.
"He handled it well and he's been a professional," Tigers pitcher Brad Penny said. "Miguel is a great guy. For people who don't know him, he's a great guy, and always having fun, always joking with people."
Penny was Cabrera's teammate with the Marlins eight years ago, when, as a fresh-faced, 20-year-old rookie, he showed the world how special he could be. In Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, Cabrera was buzzed up and in by Roger Clemens in the bottom of the first. Six pitches later, he took the Yankees' right-hander out to right-center field.
Before he went deep against Freddy Garcia on Sunday afternoon, that was Cabrera's last postseason homer.
Nobody's happier to be back in the playoffs than he is.
"We work for this," Cabrera said. "We work to get a chance to be in the World Series, to get a shot. When you're here, you have nothing to lose. You have to go out there and play hard and try to do the job."
This season, Cabrera led the AL in batting average (.344) and on-base percentage (.448), and notched 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the fifth straight season despite ranking fourth in the Majors in intentional walks.
"I'm surprised more people aren't talking about him as the MVP right now," Penny said. "To me, if you look at his numbers, they're as impressive as anyone's. If Miggy played here in this park, he'd have 140 RBIs."
Like the Yankees and Robinson Cano, the Tigers will go as far as Cabrera's bat takes them. And several aspects point in his favor in this ALDS ...
He hit .429 with six homers and 21 RBIs in September.
He ranked second in the AL with a .388 batting average with runners in scoring position.
And he has absolutely killed the Yankees -- hitting safely in 29 of 31 games and carrying a .387 batting average and 12 home runs in that span.
"He's tremendous," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "When you think about him, you think about [Albert] Pujols, Manny [Ramirez], some of the real great hitters of the last century. He's really, really special. One of the things people don't give him enough credit for is what a smart, smart hitter he is for a young hitter. He understands all aspects of game. I've really enjoyed watching him over his career. Hopefully not much over the next five or six days."
Cabrera has the talent A-Rod once had, but unlike him, he has a knack for coming through in the big moments. There's something to be said about that. Some guys struggle with the pressures of carrying a team -- like Rodriguez did in every postseason series until 2009, and basically every one since -- and some guys like Cabrera thrive on it.
Cabrera showed that on Sunday afternoon, in a game the Tigers absolutely needed to have. He got them on the board by turning an outside-corner slider into an opposite-field two-run homer, gave Detroit a 3-0 lead with an RBI single in the sixth and even stole a base (his third all season).
All of a sudden, it's a three-game series, the Tigers have the home-field advantage, and the Yankees have to pitch A.J. Burnett in Game 4.
For that, you can thank an all-guts, six-shutout-innings effort by Max Scherzer. Or luck, for having the dangerous Cano hit a game-ending groundout while representing the go-ahead run in a ninth inning that almost got away from Jose Valverde.
But it was Cabrera who set the tone when the Tigers needed a pulse to save their season.
Those who know him expected it.
"When the game's on the line, something needs to be done, he's going to be there -- every single time," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "There's very few and far between chances when he doesn't come through. That's what amazes me."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.