KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Miguel Cabrera sat in front of his locker in the corner of the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, bantering in Spanish at a table full of teammates.
There were no television cameras hovering over him. No microphones stuck in his face. None of the commotion that could be reasonably expected as the soft-spoken Detroit Tigers slugger closes in on baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years.
“I think he’s been relatively under the radar for what he’s done, for what he’s doing. It hasn’t happened in 40-some years,” Verlander continued, his voice rising. “It kind of annoys me. I don’t know about anybody else. I don’t know about him. It probably doesn’t annoy him.”
It certainly doesn’t annoy Cabrera, who will politely answer just about any question posed to him, but would just as soon spend his time hanging out with his buddies.
The perfect example came Monday night, shortly after Cabrera had four hits and a home run in a 6-3 victory over the Royals that clinched the AL Central. He was asked about contributing so much to another division title, and Cabrera deflected the attention back on his teammates.
“We got it done with the first one,” he said quietly. “That was our goal.”
Now, though, the spotlight shifts squarely to the broad shoulders of Cabrera, who started at third base in Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss at Kansas City. He had a pair of singles and drove in two runs in his first two at-bats before flying out to right and leaving the game in the fifth inning.
Cabrera leads the American League in batting average (.331), homers (44) and RBIs (139) — the Triple Crown, last achieved by Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Angels rookie Mike Trout and Twins catcher Joe Mauer are giving chase for the batting title, which Cabrera won last year, while Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton trails him by a single home run.
Maybe the home run mark is why Cabrera was in the starting lineup.
Rather than sit on the bench and watch things play out — by doing so, likely locking up the batting title — Cabrera told manager Jim Leyland that he wanted to play. And he didn’t want to be the designated hitter, either. He wanted to play just as he has all season.
“It’s a big thing,” Leyland said, “and it should be a big thing, and it really hasn’t gotten away from what we’re trying to accomplish, and now you feel more at ease talking about it.”
There are plenty of other people willing to contribute to the conversation, even if Leyland and Verlander believe there should be more. Old-timers who never thought they’d see another Triple Crown winner have piped in, as have those who remain close to the game.
“It’s just extremely difficult to do, to be the complete hitter, to be a run-producer in terms of RBIs, to be a power hitter in terms of home runs, and then lead the league in average,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I don’t know when the next time is we’ll see it happen.”