KANSAS CITY, Mo. Miguel Cabrera burst on the baseball scene as a 20-year-old slugging prodigy. He hit a home run in his first major league game and, while still a rookie, helped lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series title in 2003.
Over the years, Cabrera struggled with alcohol and his weight; he fought to find an established position in the field; and he was traded, at age 24, from the Marlins to the Detroit Tigers. But Cabrera didn't lose that which everyone agreed he possessed like few others: a discriminating eye at the plate and a sweet, timely and fluidly powerful swing.
On Wednesday, Cabrera, whose father was a professional baseball player in Venezuela and whose mother was the star shortstop for that country's national softball team, found his way into the history books of America's national pastime as the 15th player and first in 45 years to win the triple crown, leading the American League in home runs (44), batting average (.330) and RBIs (139).
Ruth didn't do it. Neither did DiMaggio, Aaron, Musial, Clemente or Jackson. Ted Williams did it twice, and Mickey Mantle once. The last player to accomplish the feat was Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox in 1967, when Lyndon Johnson was president, free agency was a pipe dream and the Boston left fielder known as Yaz chain smoked cigarettes in the dugout.
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 Texas' Josh Hamilton and one shy of Cabrera.
Cabrera went 0 for 2 against the Kansas City Royals before leaving in the fourth inning to a standing ovation. He finished the regular season hitting four points higher than Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout, his toughest competition for A.L. MVP. Cabrera was the runaway leader with 139 RBIs.
"It was hard the last two days because everybody talked about it. I just had to focus, I had to go out there and do the job," Cabrera said. "The hardest part was to go out there and focus and win games. I said, 'If we win the division, everything would take care of itself.' "
The crowd at Kauffman Stadium gave Cabrera a standing ovation before he flied out in the first inning. He struck out in the fourth before being removed from the game.
Cabrera high-fived his teammates as he entered the Detroit dugout, then walked back to the top step and waved his helmet to the crowd. When the feat became official, it was displayed on the center-field scoreboard to another standing ovation.
Cabrera had topped each category before, winning the home run title in 2008, the RBI crown in 2010 and the batting championship last year.
"When he's over the plate, he can do anything," Trout said. "He's the best hitter in the game."