- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
ST. LOUIS -- Miguel Cabrera had just finished explaining that he wasn’t sure whether the baseballs from his 399th or 400th career home runs had been retrieved when Tigers equipment manager Jim Schmakel approached him.
“You want the jersey washed?” Schmakel asked.
“No,” Cabrera said, with a wave of his hand, as if to say, No big deal.
Cabrera looked around, knowing that reporters wanted to talk with him about the day’s events, and Cabrera hoped to move that conversation along. “I’ve got to go lift [weights],” he said, politely.
The baseballs, the jersey, the bat he used, the milestone homers -- these are all important mementos because it’s possible that Cabrera will end his career regarded as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. However, it will be left to those around him to document his excellence, to keep track of the keepsakes and to put his achievements into context, because Cabrera seems to have only passing interest in talking about what he does well. As Tigers manager Brad Ausmus mentioned last weekend, Cabrera is like a 260-pound kid who just likes to play.
He’s not really into the numbers, although career homer No. 400, which he hit during Saturday's 4-3 win over the Cardinals, resonated more with him than some of the other statistics he has compiled. With that homer, Cabrera set the record for most hits by a player born in Venezuela, passing Andres Galarraga, a man and icon that Cabrera remembers meeting when Cabrera was 16.
Cabrera is batting .333 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in his first 37 games this season. In his career, Cabrera has a .320 batting average, 2,231 hits, 1,398 RBIs and, of course, all of those home runs.
“I’d like to be 32 years old and have 400 homers,” said fellow Venezuelan Victor Martinez, who is 36 years old and has 190 homers.
The other Tigers are in awe of Cabrera, how good he is, how well he knows the game. “As a hitter,” Martinez said with a smile, “he can be frustrating, thinking how good he is.”
Said David Price: “He is the best hitter in baseball. ... He is hands-down the smartest player in baseball.” And Price went on to explain how much awareness Cabrera has, how he knows where everybody is on the field and where everybody needs to be, to the point that he sometimes alerts the dugout if somebody is out of place.
Price cited, as an example, a play that Cabrera made in Saturday's , when he ranged toward the stands to catch a foul fly, then turned and fired a strike across the diamond to third to cut down Pete Kozma, who was tagging from second. Cabrera knew instantly that Kozma would try to take the base, Price said; he was not going to be surprised in that situation.
After Cabrera’s 399th homer Friday, Tigers coach Omar Vizquel asked center fielder Anthony Gose to approach the young fan who had retrieved that milestone ball. Gose followed orders, carrying with him a ball that was signed by Miguel Cabrera, and as the between-inning pitch clock counted down, he called out to the fan and asked if he could trade.
The fan’s father took the ball from his son and threw it to Gose, who, in turn, flipped the autographed ball to the fan to complete the swap. Then, rather than throw the milestone baseball back to the infield, Gose ran the ball back, to get it to Vizquel. “I didn’t want to get it dirty,” Gose explained.
Getting the No. 400 ball Saturday was easier, as it turned out. Cabrera launched the ball onto the grass beyond center field, and when a fan raced into the restricted area, he was immediately intercepted by security; the ball was taken, and after the game, Schmakel confirmed that the Tigers had possession of both baseballs.
Cabrera had indicated to Schmakel that he wanted to set aside the bat he used for No. 400, too. But a half-hour after Saturday’s game, Cabrera was in the weight room and Schmakel didn’t know where the bat was. So he picked through the three dented and dirty bats leaning against the side of Cabrera’s locker, trying to figure out where the milestone bat was. “He must’ve set it aside someplace,” Schmakel said, looking around the clubhouse.
No worries. Even if the bat can’t be located, Cabrera’s legacy is safe, stored away in the record books.
• Cabrera’s latest home run came at the end of what was a good team win, Ausmus noted.
• Cabrera is in rarefied air, writes Chris McCosky.
• The Cardinals had a terrible day baserunning, writes Rick Hummel.
• The Cardinals need to trade for a starting pitcher, writes Bernie Miklasz, in the aftermath of Tyler Lyons' short outing Saturday.
• The Pirates struggled for big hits against Jon Lester.
• Carlos Correa’s time in Triple-A has been productive: He ripped three more hits and is batting .348. It wouldn’t surprise some rival evaluators if Correa were summoned to the big leagues very, very soon. “He’s their best shortstop,” said one executive.
• The Astros thumped Toronto on Saturday, showing off their power again, Bob Elliott writes.
• The Jays have lost six of their last seven games.
• Teammates talk about how Victor Martinez works to control the tempo of each of his plate appearances in the between-pitch mind games versus the pitchers -- and this is reflected in this number: The time between pitches in his plate appearances is the longest in the majors, at 27.9 seconds.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. The Royals have hoarded starting pitching depth this year, and it has paid off, with the addition of Chris Young. Now they’ve called up Joe Blanton -- and remember, they also have Kris Medlen coming back from Tommy John surgery in the minor leagues.
Dings and dents
5. Sean Marshall’s season is over.
1. Oakland has the majors’ worst record, writes Susan Slusser.
5. The Orioles are just not playing well, and are batting .128 over the last couple of games, Steve Melewski writes.
7. The Reds had another tough day.
9. The Phillies are rolling.
18. A throwing error hurt the Rays.
• Pedro Moura writes about the Dodgers’ stats.
• Clint Hurdle is encouraged.
• From the Elias Sports Bureau: Travis Wood recorded his first career save Saturday against the Pirates after throwing 97 pitches (4 1/3 innings) Thursday in a no-decision against the Mets. He became the fifth pitcher to start a game and record a save in a three-game span since 2010.
• Neil Walker’s triple play ball is somewhere.
• Ken Davidoff wonders whether the Mets are just a big tease.
• Scouts are raving about the Mets’ young pitchers, McCarron writes.
• Problems in the bullpen are spreading for the Rangers, writes Gerry Fraley.
• The Twins are looking vaguely familiar, writes Tom Powers.
• The Yankees aren’t drawing as well on the road as they used to, writes Billy Witz. Two words: Derek Jeter. The Yankees don’t really have a signature star right now, in the way they’ve had in the recent past with Don Mattingly and Jeter.
• A reliever shined for the Rays.
• Bobby Valentine is going to work as a guest analyst on ESPN this week.
• Steven Marcus wonders: Will anyone ever hit .400 again?
• The Reds are investigating their smokestack fire.
And today will be better than yesterday.