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Tigers' Miguel Cabrera rebounds with strong season

DETROIT (AP) — Miguel Cabrera hit a majestic, game-tying homer in the ninth inning the other night.

After he crossed the plate, the Detroit Tigers slugger pointed to someone in the stands. Seconds later, he looked up in the same direction, nodded and smiled just before walking into the dugout.

Cabrera declined to say the next day who it was that night at Comerica Park — perhaps trying to keep his story on the field.

"Don't worry about it," Cabrera said Wednesday.

The first half of the season has been worry free for Cabrera, the talented first baseman who ended last season in embarrassing fashion and has seemingly done everything he can to make that memory go away.

Through Wednesday, Cabrera was leading the American League with a .347 batting average and 73 RBIs and his 21 homers were one off the league lead. If Cabrera can keep it up, he has a chance to be the fist player to hit for the Triple Crown since 1967 when Boston's Carl Yastrzemski led the AL in each category.

Even if Cabrera falls short of the feat, he seems to have made some life-improving changes.

Near the end of last season, he got into a fight with his wife that left him with a bruised and cut face and had a 0.26 blood-alcohol reading on a Saturday morning when Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski picked him up at a police station.

Then, Cabrera went 0 for 4 and stranded six runners in a loss to the Chicago White Sox on a night that Detroit could've won a division title for the first time since 1987. His team became the first to lose a three-game lead with four games left and miss the playoffs.

Cabrera told reporters at the beginning of spring training this year that he had quit drinking and didn't miss it, then looked and sounded like a new man just before the season.

"I feel good with what I'm doing right now with my mind and my game," Cabrera told The Associated Press during the last week of spring training. "I want to prove to myself, not anybody else, what I can still do."

The 27-year-old Cabrera has proven he's one of the best sluggers in baseball.

"He is more focused off the field, and that is helping him on the field," teammate Ramon Santiago said. "Nobody wanted to happen what happened to him, but everything happens for a reason. A lot of people talked to him about taking care of his body — on the team and outside of baseball — telling him he can be the best hitter in the game.

"I told him, 'Don't stay out until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, then come to the field with only one meal before a game.' We depend on our bodies — like machines almost — so you have to take care of your body to be successful."

The Tigers have successfully bounced back from last year's disheartening finish. They are atop the competitive AL Central going into Friday's series opener at home against rival Minnesota in large part because of Cabrera's productive and clutch bat.

Cabrera leads the majors with seven homers and 20 RBIs in the seventh inning or later with the batting team ahead by one run, tied, or with the tying run on base, batting or on deck, according to STATS LLC.

That helped get Cabrera picked to be an All-Star for the fifth time in seven seasons. He's also scheduled to be in Monday's Home Run Derby.

"He's a superstar, plain and simple," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Cabrera's job has become a little easier because Magglio Ordonez is producing ahead of him in the lineup and rookie Brennan Boesch keeps smashing pitches behind him.

"In big situations, you tell yourself not to let him beat you," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But, then you look around him. You've got the Boesch kid just absolutely killing it and you've got Maggs in front of him.

"Miguel is definitely one of the top players in our league if not the top player. His numbers day in and day out, year in and year out proves that."

Since jumping to the majors from the Double-A level at the age of 20 when he helped the Florida Marlins win the 2003 World Series, the Venezuelan has hit .314 with an average of 230 homers and 826 RBIs. He hit a Marlins-record .339 in 2006 to join Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg as the only players to hit 25 homers and 50 doubles in a season before turning 24.

Cabrera averaged 32 homers and 115 RBIs while hitting .318 during his last four seasons for the Marlins, putting up numbers in those categories over a four-year span matched by only Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero.

Detroit acquired Cabrera from Florida during the winter meetings before the 2008 season — along with pitcher Dontrelle Willis — gave up six prospects and invested $152 million in an eight-year contract in him.

Other that his infamous weekend at the end of last season, he has done what Detroit wanted.

Johnny Damon respected Cabrera from afar when he was playing for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Now, he compares Cabrera with the best of the best that Damon has seen up close.

"He's probably the most talented teammate I've ever had," Damon said. "I played with Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and A-Rod. Miguel is in their class, but I think he could end up a touch better."