Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
As the 2012 season entered its final three days, the Detroit Tigers had two goals when they arrived in Kansas City for the last games of the season. Detroit held a three-game lead over Chicago in the AL Central and needed just one win (or one White Sox loss) to clinch the division title outright. And their star third baseman, Miguel Cabrera, was seeking to become the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI.
Luckily, Cabrera and the Tigers were facing their favorite punching bag in the Royals. Detroit had won 11 of 15 from the Royals that season, while Cabrera was putting together a .314/.338/.400 line against KC pitching in 2012, which is actually worse than his career line (.305/.379/.481) against the Royals. Cabrera entered the series with a healthy lead in the RBI category but was trying to outlast some rookie named Mike Trout in the batting average one and was in a dogfight for the home run lead, with Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Adam Dunn all within reach.
The Tigers won the Monday night game, giving them the AL Central crown despite Chicago’s win in Cleveland. Cabrera collected four of Detroit’s 14 hits, hiking his average to .329. Cabrera needed every one of those hits; Trout had four hits in his game, boosting his average to .325. You know you’ve had a good day when your batting average improves by four points in October! And that was true for both players. Also, one of Cabrera’s hits was his 44th home run of the year. That lifted him above Hamilton, who remained at 43.
With the Tigers’ playoff seed locked in, there was no reason for Cabrera or other Detroit regulars to play in the Tuesday game, yet the future Hall of Famer was in there, at least for part of the game. He picked up two hits before being pulled from the game after ending the top of the fifth with a flyout. Naturally, he drove in two runs with one of his hits. That pushed his average to .331; Trout’s 1-5 game dropped his average to .324 and essentially clinched the second leg of the Triple Crown for the Detroit slugger. The Royals rallied for a 4-2 win, but all the attention was on whether Cabrera would play the final game of the season.
The argument in favor was his narrow lead in the home run race, and apparently that was a good enough reason. At least for a couple more at-bats. Cabrera flied out in the first and struck out in the fourth. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Detroit manager Jim Leyland sent Ramon Santiago out to replace Cabrera. The crowd, a surprisingly robust 30,383 who were obviously hoping to see some baseball history, gave him a standing ovation. That was in addition to large ovations before his two at-bats.
“Very emotional. It was like playing at home to have all the fans cheer for you. It was an unbelievable feeling. I was very thankful for the fans here in Kansas City. It was a great moment in my life.”–Cabrera, quoted by Sam McDowell, The Kansas City Star, October 4, 2012
Even the Royals players joined in, crowding the top step of the dugout to pay respects to the 17th Triple Crown winner in MLB history (seven Negro Leagues players also are credited with the feat)..
“Our fans are very knowledgeable. They appreciate that. I was, our whole team was, giving him a standing ovation. What he did was nothing less than amazing.”–Royals manager Ned Yost, quoted by Sam McDowell, The Kansas City Star, October 4, 2012
Cabrera acknowledged the cheers with a curtain call, tipping his cap to the crowd and waving his glove at the Royals dugout.
There was actually a bit of drama after Cabrera left the game. Not in Kansas City, but in New York. Granderson homered in the second inning, his 42nd of the year. The odds weren’t good he could pass Cabrera, but at least now it was possible. But Granderson struck out his next two times up. He did hit another home run, but with the Yankees holding a 14-2 lead in the seventh, he was only going to have one more plate appearance anyway. Instead, Melky Mesa hit for him, and Cabrera was the undisputed home run champion as well. Royals fans gave him another nice ovation when that was announced on the video board.
“It was hard the last two weeks, because everybody has been talking about it. It’s been hard to focus. It’s been hard trying to do your job. I think the race to win the division helped me a lot. We focused about that.”–Cabrera, quoted by Bob Dutton, The Kansas City Star, October 4, 2012
Cabrera was the first player to accomplish the feat since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and no one has been able to do it since then.
One thought on “50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #11: Cabrera Clinches Triple Crown (October 3, 2012)”
I realize that the significance of certain stats has changed over the years, but I could never understand the people who were shrugging off the Triple Crown when Cabrera was doing it. It’s still a remarkable achievement. Now, if it had only been a Royal reaching that milestone.