KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Miguel Cabrera had just achieved baseball immortality, and everyone around him knew it.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland had tears welling in his eyes. General manager Dave Dombrowski kept trying to remind people to stop and enjoy the moment. Prince Fielder simply shook his head in disbelief at the history that had unfolded.
Less than an hour earlier, in the midst of Detroit’s otherwise meaningless 1-0 victory over Kansas City, it had finally become official: Cabrera had won the Triple Crown.
“Everybody said to me it was unbelievable. They were all excited to see this, enjoy this, be a part of something big,” he said, taking the rare feat in stride better than anyone.
Cabrera finished the regular-season hitting .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs, leading the American League in all three statistical categories, making him just the 15th player to achieve the Triple Crown and the first since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“I’ve managed a lot of players, managed some great ones, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” Leyland said. “When you’re sitting back and it’s over with, people are talking about Miguel Cabrera, the rest of the world will have no idea who his manager was, but I will.”
Among those in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs are Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson, who called it “an incredible accomplishment for a gifted young man, and Miguel should be proud of his all-around excellence and consistency throughout the season.”
Cabrera’s achievement wasn’t assured until the Yankees pinch-hit for Curtis Granderson in their 14-2 rout of the Boston Red Sox. Granderson had homered twice to reach 43 for the year, tied with the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton and one shy of the Tigers’ third baseman.
“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.”
Perhaps befitting one of the game’s reluctant superstars, Cabrera had retired to the visiting clubhouse after he was removed from Wednesday night’s game in the fourth inning.
He watch his milestone become official on the television screens perched in the middle of the room, surrounded by Fielder, reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander and a few other teammates.
“He’s the best right-handed hitter in the game, the best teammate, the most humble person I know,” Fielder said. “Anyone who wins the Triple Crown, he’s awesome, man. He’s the best.”
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.”
The crowd at Kauffman Stadium gave Cabrera a standing ovation before he flied out in the first inning. He struck out in the fourth but remained in the game, allowing Leyland to remove him with two outs in the bottom half of the inning to another standing ovation from thousands of appreciative fans.