Miguel Cabrera had two hits, drove in two runs and pressed ever closer to the first Triple Crown in 45 years Tuesday night. Now, the question facing the Detroit Tigers star is whether to play in the regular-season finale against Kansas City.
Cabrera said he'd do what manager Jim Leyland asks of him. Leyland said he'll play Cabrera if he wants. It seems nobody is quite sure what will happen until the lineup card is posted.
"You know, he writes the lineup and I do what he wants," Cabrera said after the AL Central champion Tigers lost 4-2 to the Royals. "I play ball. He's the manager, he's the boss. So whatever he wants to do, we're going to do. I play for the manager."
With one game remaining in the regular season, Cabrera leads the American League in average (.331), home runs (44) and RBIs (139), putting him on the brink of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
"I've not made the decision, but I will. I'm going to think about it tonight. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do," Leyland said. "If he wants to play, then he'll play."
Alcides Esocbar and Jeff Francoeur homered for Kansas City on Tuesday night, and Salvador Perez had the go-ahead RBI in the fifth inning. Jeremy Guthrie (5-3) lasted six innings to improve to 5-0 with six no-decisions in his final 11 starts, the Royals winning 10 of them.
Doug Fister (10-10) allowed three runs on seven hits in 4 1-3 innings for Detroit.
"I pitched to contact and I got the contact, just not the contact I wanted," Fister said. "I have some things to work out in the bullpen in the next few days."
The Tigers will open the postseason on Saturday at home.
"I'm not worried about him," Leyland said. "He's fine."
Max Scherzer is another issue.
The right-hander twisted his right ankle in the on-field victory celebration the previous night, knocking him out of his scheduled start Wednesday. Scherzer, who is 16-7 with a 3.82 ERA, was supposed to pitch five innings to test his sore right shoulder.
Luis Marte will start in Scherzer's place, and Leyland will rely on a hodge-podge of relief pitchers to get through the game, the outcome of which is ultimately meaningless.
Of course, there's a lot of meaning riding on Cabrera's at-bats.
He had a single in the first inning and a bases-loaded single in the third before a fly ball to right field in the fifth. He was replaced by Omar Infante in the bottom half of the frame, something that Leyland indicated might happen.
"I'm the manager and I make the decisions, and you do a lot of things on instincts," Leyland said. "I said, 'You know what? Three at-bats is enough.'"
Leyland said he gave Cabrera the option of being DH or taking the night off, but Cabrera wanted to play in his usual spot. The Angels' Mike Trout and the Twins' Joe Mauer are chasing him for the batting title, while the Rangers' Josh Hamilton is one back for the home run crown.
"It'll be real interesting to see what will happen," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I give him a little credit. He was playing today after clinching the championship."
While Cabrera insisted on playing, Leyland gave the night off to several other regulars.
Quintin Berry started in center field, Don Kelly in left field, Ramon Santiago at second base and Danny Worth at shortstop. Several substitutions were made in the later innings.
The cobbled-together lineup played a part in the outcome, too.
Escobar homered in the first inning for Kansas City, but the Tigers still led 2-1 on the strength of Cabrera's timely single when the fifth inning rolled around.
Irving Falu, Jarrod Dyson and Escobar strung together consecutive singles off Fister to tie the game. Alex Gordon popped out to shortstop, and Perez hit a hard grounder toward second base that should have resulted in an inning-ending double play.
Santiago fielded the ball and the Tigers got the first out, but Worth couldn't get the relay over to first base cleanly, which allowed Dyson to score the go-ahead run.
Francoeur added a homer in the eighth, and the Kansas City bullpen shut out the Tigers the final three innings. Greg Holland handled the ninth for his 16h save.
"It was actually a good game," Leyland said. "It was kind of fun."
Notes: Royals 1B Eric Hosmer (strained right shoulder) and 3B Mike Moustakas (groin) will miss the final two games of the season. Manager Ned Yost said neither of the injuries will require surgery. ... RHP Luis Mendoza will start the season finale for Kansas City. ... Prince Fielder played five innings at 1B for Detroit. Leyland said he'll DH on Wednesday.