DETROIT (AP) — Miguel Cabrera's drive sailed high into the Detroit night — so high, in fact, that left fielder Alex Gordon had time to drift over to the fence and wait a couple seconds before reaching over and robbing the slugger of a home run.
That snapshot was a good example of why nobody has won baseball's Triple Crown in 45 years. It takes a special blend of power, discipline, consistency — and yes, luck, if you believe in such a thing. But Cabrera is making perhaps the strongest bid since Carl Yastrzemski accomplished the feat in 1967.
With six games remaining, Detroit's 29-year-old third baseman tops the American League in batting average and RBIs and trails home run leader Josh Hamilton by only one.
"I heard a lot from the fans about the Triple Crown. I can't repeat most of it, but I'm sure you can guess," said Gordon, the Kansas City outfielder who did his part to slow Cabrera's pursuit by taking that homer away Wednesday night. "Miguel puts up these numbers every year, so it isn't a surprise that he's got a chance at the Triple Crown. I think that, some year, he'll probably do it. He's just an incredible hitter, and he's respected by everyone in the game."
Cabrera won his first batting title last year, hitting .344 to complete a "career triple crown" after winning home run and RBI titles in previous seasons. Now he's trying to become the first player since Yastrzemski to sweep all three categories at the same time. Since 1967, the Triple Crown has been even more elusive in baseball than in horse racing.
Yastrzemski figures it's only a matter of time before somebody new joins the club. Since his Triple Crown season, other seemingly unapproachable marks have been surpassed.
"When Rose broke Cobb's hit record, I never thought that would happen," Yastrzemski said. "When Ripken broke Gehrig's consecutive game record, I never thought that would happen either. So it's going to happen."
In 1967, Yastrzemski hit .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBIs — a feat somewhat overshadowed at the time by a memorable pennant race in which his Boston Red Sox outlasted Detroit and Minnesota by a single game. Cabrera is in a similar spot. The Tigers are in a tense race with the Chicago White Sox atop the AL Central.
After Thursday's 5-4 victory over Kansas City, Cabrera is hitting .326 with 42 homers and 133 RBIs.
"I want to keep my game the same way," Cabrera said recently. "I don't want to put extra pressure because we've got a lot of pressure right now in our division. I think it's going to be a big mistake if I put extra pressure on myself."
Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby both won the Triple Crown twice. Frank Robinson did it the year before Yastrzemski, making the drought that followed even more striking.
According to STATS LLC., since Yastrzemski's Triple Crown, a player has finished atop his league in two of the three categories 45 times. That makes some sense, since a good power hitter can rack up homers and RBIs simultaneously.
Sure enough, in 41 of those 45 Triple Crown near-misses, batting average was the spoiler. Stars like Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez have all led their leagues in homers and RBIs in the same season — only to fall short of the batting title.
That's what's made Cabrera unique. Some power hitters strike out so much they can forget about a decent batting average. Cabrera is on pace to hit at least .320 for the seventh time in eight years — but there may be a limit to how high his average can rise since he doesn't have much speed. That makes his Triple Crown attempt that much more remarkable.