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Jeff Bagwell was the only recent player to finish in the top two in each Triple Crown category; in the strike-shortened 1994 season, he was first in RBIs and second in both average and homers. In 1992, Gary Sheffield led the National League in hitting but finished two behind in the home run race and nine back in RBIs.

“That’s the ultimate, to win the Triple Crown,” slugger Jim Thome said. “I think it would be good for baseball. I think it would be good for kids of our era to say that they watched a Triple Crown. If you’re a kid in Detroit, how could you not want to see a Triple Crown?”

Cabrera’s chase has helped start a divisive debate over whether he or Angels rookie Mike Trout should be the American League MVP. Trout has been an all-around force for Los Angeles _ at the plate, in the field and on the bases.

No matter who comes out on top in that vote, there’s no detracting from Cabrera’s terrific year. He was arrested at the start of spring training in 2011 and later pleaded no contest to drunken driving, but he earned praise from the organization for his work off the field in the aftermath of that ugly incident. He went on to win the batting title last year and helped the Tigers to a division championship.

When Detroit signed Prince Fielder in the offseason, Cabrera moved from first base to third and showed up at spring training looking a little slimmer. His home run and RBI totals in 2012 are both career highs, and while he doesn’t remind anyone of Brooks Robinson with the glove, he’s hardly the only Tiger with defensive issues.

He’s also Detroit’s nominee this year for the Roberto Clemente Award, which rewards the player “who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.”

In July, Cabrera became the second Venezuela-born player to reach 300 homers.

“He’s the total package,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “There’s just none of them around that can do what he can do _ hit for an extremely high average, hit for an extreme amount of power and be a run producer.”

Cabrera has taken advantage of a big year from Detroit leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, who is hitting .303. Having a player like that ahead of him in the lineup has surely helped Cabrera’s RBI total.

Any number of hitters could still play spoiler to Cabrera’s Triple Crown chase. Joe Mauer is three points behind in average. Hamilton is ahead in homers, and Edwin Encarnacion is even with Cabrera at 42. Adam Dunn has 41.

So the stage is set for quite a conclusion to the regular season, both because of the AL Central race and Cabrera’s own shot at history.

“It’s hard. A lot of attention right now. Here, even in Venezuela,” Cabrera said. “Try to stay out, don’t read the papers. Try not to think about it.”


AP Sports Writers Larry Lage and Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.