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DETROIT — For the first time, both winners of the Hank Aaron Awards that go to the best hitters in their respective leagues are facing off in the World Series.
Less than 90 minutes before the start of Saturday’s Game 3, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants were introduced as the award winners by Aaron and commissioner Bud Selig.
The awards were selected by a fan vote and by a panel of Hall-of-Fame members.
Cabrera also accepted a Triple Crown trophy that was presented by Selig and one-time Triple Crown winner Frank Robinson.
“I look back on my career and [the Triple Crown] is one thing I didn’t do,” Aaron, the game’s one-time career home run champion, told Cabrera. “You did it with grace. And I know they weren’t infield hits.”
Cabrera led the American League with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs, and 139 RBIs to become the first player to win a Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Robinson accomplished the feat a year earlier.
“It was a truly remarkable offensive season that ended the longest gap between Triple Crown winners in baseball history,” Selig said.
Cabrera said he was “thankful for this moment. It’s a tremendous honor.”
Posey led both leagues in hitting (.336) and was the first catcher to win the NL batting title since 1942. He did it one season after a serious May, 2011 injury that saw him break a bone in his left leg and tear three ankle ligaments.
Posey had a big smile on his face as Selig and Aaron took turns saluting him.
“Wow. I’m humbled that Hank Aaron even knows who I am,” Posey said.
HOME COOKING: The Tigers were glad to be home, of course, after dropping into an 0-2 hole while opening the World Series in San Francisco.
More important, perhaps, than being back at Comerica Park, though, was the revival of the designated hitter with the series moving to the American League park.
Just as important, perhaps, was turning around the San Francisco pitching rotation to a pair of right-handers, Ryan Vogelsong for Game 3 and Matt Cain for today’s Game 4.
It may surprise some to know that despite some of the Tigers’ biggest hitters – Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young to name a quartet – swinging from the right side of the plate, Detroit as a team has fared better this season against right-handed pitchers than left.
The Tigers have a .771 OPS — a statistical combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage — against right-handed pitchers and a .724 OPS against lefties.
Tigers’ hitters were fed a heavy dose of southpaws during the opening two games in San Francisco and did not fare well. The Giants’ starters were lefties Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner.
“I thought they made a good move,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of the Giants. “They read, obviously, and they know our right-handed hitting lineup is not as good. But, you know, for us to win a World Series we’re going to have to beat a left-hander. I think we’re capable of doing that. A lot of people have short memories; we just beat CC Sabathia not too long ago in Game 4 of the ALCS. So we can beat a left-hander.”
Facing righties in a DH park, however, means Delmon Young is removed from the defense, where he rarely plays and where he did not distinguish himself in left field in San Francisco. It put Andy Dirks back in the starting lineup.
Considering he hit .336 vs. right-handed pitching this season, that and improved defense may be the biggest edges the Tigers realized from returning home.
TIGER TARGETS: Detroit’s 1-2 run-producing duo of Cabrera and Prince Fielder entered Saturday night’s Game 3 with a combined .225 postseason batting average and were a combined 2-for-11 with one RBI in the World Series.
Leyland felt their at-bats were “fine,” and suggested “they’re going to be pitched a little bit tougher than some of the other guys.”
Cain, the scheduled Game 4 starter for the Giants, agreed, to an extent.
“Those two, sure,” Cain said, “but the biggest thing is taking care of guys in front of them. If you can get the first two guys out in front of them, keep them off the bases, it just makes it a little bit easier, stress-wise. When you’ve got a couple guys on with Cabrera or Fielder or [Delmon] Young up, things aren’t going so well.
“So you’ve got to focus on the guys in front of them, as well. It’s not just the guys in the middle.”
MAD MAX: Before Saturday’s game, Tigers’ Game 4 starter Max Scherzer didn’t know if his team would be down 0-3 or 1-2 when he takes the mound today and he said it didn’t matter.
“I have a preference,” he said, laughing. “But does it make a difference? Absolutely not. I’ve got to give the team a chance to win, so regardless of what the series is at, it’s a must-win game. We’re trying to win the World Series. If we’re going to do that I need to pitch well.
“Given that, I’ll come up with a plan of attack on how I want to go at their offense and try to execute the best I can.
“I absolutely relish it. I mean, this is the start of a lifetime to be able to pitch in the World Series. You know, every game in the World Series is a must-win game, so what better opportunity than the one I have.”
TSN HONORS: The Sporting News named Detroit third baseman Cabrera its player of the year for 2012. In addition to Cabrera, the Sporting News’ postseason AL all-star team included right-handed starting pitcher Justin Verlander and first baseman Prince Fielder.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Giants certainly weren’t intimidated upon reporting to Comerica Park. They went 46-35 on the road during the regular season and everyone remembers their three-game sweep in Cincinnati during the NLDS.
San Francisco averaged 3.8 runs per game at home and 5.06 runs on the road, the second highest figure in the majors. After the all-star break, the National League champs played 12 series on the road, winning 10 of them and splitting another while going 30-13.
“Some things are hard to explain,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “But I will say it really picked up in the second half how we did on the road, and we had to. We had to get our act together … these guys have been very good at being road warriors. For a team to have a good year, you need to play pretty good ball on the road, and these guys have done it.”
LONG BALLS: The Giants are just the seventh team since 1900 to reach the postseason despite hitting the fewest regular-season home runs of all major league teams. They finished with 103 round-trippers.
The last team to accomplish the feat was the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals, who hit just 94 homers.
QUOTE-UNQUOTE: Tigers manager Jim Leyland on how he gets along with younger players so well:
“My dad was one of 16 [children], my wife is one of 11, I’m one of seven. You learn how to deal with people. I don’t think that’s really a problem for me. I am just grumpy once in a while because [I] have to be grumpy or sometimes you guys don’t get the message. So everybody thinks I’m a grumpy old man. I’m old but I’m not grumpy.”