What a way to close out this All-Star summer at Kauffman Stadium.
Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera completed baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years Wednesday night to the delighted appreciation of a big walk-up crowd that again spoke to the pent-up enthusiasm of a community thirsting for its own winner.
That crowd of 30,383 also saw the Royals conclude their season with a 1-0 loss that sent them into the winter at 72-90. This marks four straight seasons, and eight times in nine years, that the Royals lost at least 90 games.
This night was all about Cabrera, who received an extended ovation from the crowd in the first inning when introduced prior to his first at-bat. He drew notable cheers prior to his second at-bat, but the highlight came with two outs in the Royals’ fourth.
That’s when Ramon Santiago chugged from the Detroit bench to third base to replace Cabrera, who turned toward Tigers manager Jim Leyland and spread his arms in a “why” gesture before leaving the field.
The crowd rose to its feet in applause, players on both benches joined in. The cheering continued until Cabrera came back onto the field for a cap-tipping curtain call.
“Between us and the fans,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, “I thought that was really classy. What happened hasn’t happened in 45 years. The fans here are good baseball fans, and everybody was aware of what was going on.
“When you see him do what he’s done for so many years – and he plays here nine times a year – so I think the fans have come to respect what he does. That was a lot of fun to be a part of tonight.”
It was a nice moment that recalled the city’s enjoyment in July at serving as host to the All-Star Game and its surrounding festivities.
“It was like the response they gave Chipper Jones at the All-Star Game,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Somebody said it ranks up there with a 30-win season. It ranks up there with hitting .400. Winning the Triple Crown – it’s not easy to do. I don’t if we’ll see it again.”
Cabrera finished the season with 44 homers, 139 RBIs and a .330 average for the first Triple Crown since Boston outfielder Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“No, I don’t believe it,” Cabrera said. “I don’t believe it. Is this real? I don’t know when I’m going to believe this.”
Detroit scored the game’s only run in the next inning.
Omar Infante led off with a single through the left side and stole second. After Don Kelly struck out, Austin Jackson lined an RBI double into center.
The final ovation for Cabrera came before the Royals came to bat in the sixth inning when the Crown Vision scoreboard confirmed the Triple Crown. That followed Curtis Granderson’s departure from the Yankees’ game after two homers boosted his total to 43.
“It was hard the last two weeks,” Cabrera said, “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 main part that helped a lot was focusing on going out there and winning games.
“I think the race to win the division helped me a lot. We focused about that.”
The next step for the Tigers, as division champions, is a best-of-five postseason matchup against Oakland that begins Saturday in Detroit.
“I am glad that he accomplished this while leading his team to the American League Central title,” Yastrzemski said in a statement. “I was fortunate enough to win this award in 1967 as part of the Red Sox Impossible Dream Team.”
Commissioner Bud Selig also offered his congratulations, calling the Triple Crown “a remarkable achievement that places him amongst an elite few in all of baseball history.”
The crowd at Kauffman Stadium gave Cabrera a standing ovation before he flied out in the first inning. He struck out in the fourth but remained in the game, allowing Leyland to remove him with two outs to another standing ovation from thousands of appreciate fans.
For the Royals, Thursday brings that start of an off-season where bolstering the rotation looms as the top priority.
“We didn’t want to end that way,” Yost said. “(Luis) Mendoza pitched a whale of a ballgame. I was doing everything I could to let him hang in there long enough to see if he could get that ninth win…We just couldn’t get him any run support.”
Mendoza (8-10) limited the Tigers to one run and six hits in seven innings. The Royals, meanwhile, stranded 11 runners against four Detroit pitchers and were zero for five with runners in scoring position.
“What can I say?” Mendoza said while shrugging. “I just tried to keep it a close game.”