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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

As encore to Triple Crown, Miggy even better

Three-homer effort puts Tigers star ahead of pace from MVP 2012 season

As encore to Triple Crown, Miggy even better play video for As encore to Triple Crown, Miggy even better

ARLINGTON -- Miguel Cabrera's teammates talk about him with awe in their voices. Not just because of his amazing physical talent, although that's certainly part of the deal. In his case, it's simply a starting point.

If you drew up the perfect baseball player -- that is, if you gave someone size and strength and quickness, if you also gave him a dedication to his craft and a commitment to being the best teammate he can be -- you would have Miguel Cabrera.

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The Tigers say pretty much this same stuff all the time. They have their lines down because Cabrera's coming off a season in which he won the American League Triple Crown and was named the AL's Most Valuable Player. Manager Jim Leyland said he's the best in the game. Teammate Prince Fielder nods in agreement. Around the clubhouse, there's plenty of talk like this.

So on a night like Sunday, a night when Cabrera is incredible even by his own high standards, a night when he hits three towering home runs, a night when he reaches base five times and drives in five runs, there's really not much that hasn't been said before.

OK, there's this.

As baseball fans, we're the lucky ones, because years from now we're going to be able to say we saw a guy who might very well end up being compared with the greatest hitters who ever lived.

That's the kind of resume Cabrera, who is still only 30 years old -- and doesn't that surprise you? -- is putting together. The Tigers lost to the Rangers, 11-8, on Sunday night at Rangers Ballpark, but it was Cabrera's show.

Cabrera hit a Derek Holland changeup over the wall in right-center in the third inning. He finished an eight-pitch battle by getting Holland again in the fifth. Holland threw everything he had at him, alternating between sinkers, sliders and more changeups. When a 95-mph fastball caught too much of the plate, Cabrera hit a screaming liner to center.

It was hit so low and so hard -- Cabrera's signature -- that Holland ducked, thinking the ball might be coming right at him. Instead, it kept climbing, finally clearing the center-field wall by a wide margin.

"That guy is a great hitter," Rangers catcher Geovany Soto said. "He covers inside, outside, hard, soft. He's unbelievable."

And then in the eighth inning, Cabrera slammed a 97-mph Tanner Scheppers fastball over the center-field wall. He also singled in the first inning and drew an intentional walk in the sixth. When he left the ballpark, he'd raised his batting average to .387 and is dotted across the MLB leaderboard.

"I've never seen a guy that put the bat head on the ball as regular as he does and on all pitches," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You try to throw the ball off the plate, he finds a way to get his head to it."

If you wondered what Cabrera would do for an encore after winning the Triple Crown, he's sailing along. His batting average is 83 points higher than it was at this time last season. He also has three home runs and 13 RBIs more than he did after 42 games last season.

Cue the impressed teammates and manager.

"I've been playing a long time, and he's the best hitter I've ever seen," Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter said. "He could have won this game by himself."

Hunter mentioned the third home run, the one off the 97-mph heater.

"Scheppers' ball was moving like crazy," Hunter said. "It's like he made one mistake, and Cabrera made him pay for it. With a two-seamer like that, some guys might hit a ground ball hard. Cabrera hits a home run. My hair stood up on my head, and I don't have any."

Tigers catcher Brayan Pena added: "He's just blessed. He works so hard. You see him in the batting cage every day, always trying to improve his game. ... He's always there for you when you have a question. God blessed him with talent, but he never takes anything for granted."

Finally, the manager.

"It's effortless for him," Leyland said. "He can hit the ball out of the ballpark to all fields. He's one of the few guys in the game that can take a sinker down and in and hit it to right field like a bullet. He's so smooth. Nobody really can explain it."

For his part, Cabrera seemed almost embarrassed by the attention. He said he took no joy from doing great things in a loss. He also said that any talk of comparing him to the all-time greats is premature.

"It's too soon to say that," Cabrera said. "There are a lot of great players that have played this game. I respect them. Guys have gotten 3,000 hits and had 500 home runs. You have to give respect to guys who've already done it. It's a long way to go to say that about me."

Still, even Cabrera acknowledged he was in a nice little comfort zone. The Tigers lost three out of four to the Rangers, but Cabrera went 9-for-17 and raised his batting average 18 points from .369.

"You never know what's going to happen," Cabrera said. "When you're feeling good, you've got to keep going."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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