"He looked at me like I was crazy," Santiago said. "Like, 'What are you doing here?'"
The standing ovation that followed explained why. It was a Royal reception for the first hitter in 45 years with a Triple Crown, and it got Cabrera emotional.
"Oh, very emotional," Cabrera admitted.
Said teammate Danny Worth: "He was getting a little teary-eyed. You could tell."
It was exactly what Tigers manager Jim Leyland intended when he penciled Cabrera into the starting lineup for Wednesday night's regular-season finale -- a 1-0 win at Kauffman Stadium.
"It didn't turn out exactly how I'd planned, but it was pretty cool," Leyland said. "I think we did it the right way. I think we did it the classy way."
For statistical purposes, it was shaping up like a victory lap, his gaps in home runs and RBIs seemingly safe before Angels rookie Mike Trout proved unable to produce the kind of night he would've needed to make up the ground in batting average.
Cabrera's biggest threat, ironically, came from a former teammate. Curtis Granderson's two-homer game admittedly had Leyland panicking, but as Justin Verlander pointed out, he would've needed two more to break up Cabrera's path to history. The Tigers had personnel checking games in progress just in case.
It ended up a curious subplot, but it was Cabrera's night.
The crowd began cheering for him before the game even started. Once he stepped to the plate with two outs in the opening inning, the crowd got on its feet for a lengthy applause. Cabrera, perhaps allowing himself to soak in the moment for the first time, stood at the edge of the batters' box.
Cabrera flew out to center on an 0-2 pitch, dropping his average to .330, then waited in the middle of the infield for somebody to bring out his glove. This was not going to make this a one-and-done type of game for him.
When Cabrera struck out on a Luis Mendoza fastball leading off the fourth inning, one could almost sense the crowd wondering if that was it. He didn't get a reaction from his teammates or a sign from Leyland, so he walked into the dugout.
"We gave him a couple of at-bats," Leyland said. "We gave the whole nation a chance to see him hit a couple times. We gave the whole nation a chance to see him taken out. If we could've done it better, I don't know how."
Once the move came in the bottom of the inning, the roar from the crowd sounded like a reception from the All-Star Game that was held here in July. And Cabrera, who had worried for the past week about his individual statistics overshadowing the Tigers' playoff chase, allowed himself a moment to soak it in.
"It's like being at home, to have all the fans cheer for you," said Cabrera, who finished with 44 homers and 139 RBIs. "It's an unbelievable feeling. I was very thankful for the fans in Kansas City. It was a great moment."
Most of those standing were wearing Royals blue, though a fair number of Tigers fans had made the trip to watch it happen. Players in both dugouts stood and applauded.
"Our fans are special in that way," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It was like the response they gave Chipper Jones at the All-Star Game. Our fans are very knowledgeable. Everybody -- I was, our whole team was giving him a standing ovation. What he did was nothing less than simply amazing."
Prince Fielder hugged Cabrera as soon as he reached the dugout steps. A line of players followed, including Justin Verlander, who has been his biggest supporter in the public and the media for his case for Most Valuable Player.
Then Verlander brought him back out to the top of the steps as the applause continued.
"I pushed him a little bit," Verlander said.
It was a curtain call for a visiting player, and for a player not used to taking in glory like that. Even in Detroit, where M-V-P chants have greeted him since midseason, he's never out of the game enough to get a curtain call.
They weren't going to let him miss this one.
"The guy's awesome," Fielder said. "He doesn't even realize how good he is. It's unbelievable. Man, I don't know."
Then Fielder shook his head.
"That's what makes him such a great person. I don't think he really gets what just happened. He's the best."
As Cabrera talked to a crowd reporters in front of his locker, a playoff-like gathering for a game that was meaningless in the standings, it seemed to be sinking in. He spent the late innings back in the clubhouse talking with teammates. His eyes were still moist.
"No, I don't believe it," Cabrera said. "I tell Prince and Verlander, this season really happened. I don't know when I'm going to believe this."