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HYDE: Rookies make noise, but Cabrera still king

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HYDE: Rookies make noise, but Cabrera still king

Published September 12, 2006


MIAMI GARDENS -- For eight batters a game, the Marlins are a charming and cuddly collection of Hanleys, Ugglas and uber-rookies whose season teeters between the dumbfounding and the downright baffling.


But the story line downshifts once each time through the lineup. The Marlins suddenly aren't so scrappy and surprising when Miguel Cabrera swings his brand of menace.


This team is a spectacle for those swings, just as Cabrera always has been.


"I always expect to be good," he says. "I'm not a rookie."


He's sitting at his locker, leaning back in a chair and offering a 23-year-old smile to set up the next line.


"But I'm younger than most of these rookies," he said.


Yes, The Little Team That Can won again on Monday night, pummeling the Mets 16-5 to pull within two games of a playoff spot. And it's forever fun after a night like this to talk about Cody Ross' three home runs, Dan Uggla tying the 1938 record of home runs by a rookie second baseman or Anibal Sanchez pitching yet another win.


But lost in the night, just as it's been lost in this funhouse of a season, was Cabrera. He always has been in the middle of greatness and was again Monday. He left with two hits, three RBI and a more recognizable white whale than any rookie.


Cabrera now leads the league with a .340 batting average, leapfrogging Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez (.339) on Monday. That number doesn't just tell the story of Cabrera's season, but perhaps the Marlins' bigger one as well.


"I had to change my thinking," he says. "At the start of the season, I was trying to hit a two- or three-run home run every time up. We were losing, and I would come up thinking I had to get a home run to help us win.


"I was hitting .260. I wasn't hitting anything. I didn't know what to do."


People can talk about the adjustments all the rookies had to make. That's a good story unto itself. But what Cabrera has done is something else in another direction entirely. When you have a World Series ring, have hit 33 home runs in your two full seasons and are surrounded by no-names, you don't need a graduate degree in pitching to know you won't see many good pitches.


"I had to learn to be patient," Cabrera said. "I was getting one pitch to hit every [at-bat], maybe two if I was lucky. Teams wanted to pitch to the rookies."


He was asked how many hittable pitches he got each game last year.


"A lot," he said. "I had protection. Carlos Delgado. Mike Lowell. Paul Lo Duca. I saw a lot of pitches with those guys around me."


Hitting coach Jim Presley says only Washington and San Francisco have pitched to Cabrera this season. They're managed by old-school Frank Robinson and Felipe Alou, respectively, "who don't believe in pitching around guys," Presley says.


Against them this year, Cabrera has hit .424 with four home runs and 25 RBI.


"I like the way they pitch," he says.


More often, he gets teams like the Mets and a steady diet of off-speed pitches just off the plate. He has to wait for the pitcher to miss with one of them. One miss became a single Monday that gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Another became a second-inning double to make it 6-2.


"And we keep winning," Cabrera says.


About two months ago, when the season turned the Marlins' way, Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis adopted a ritual from the World Series team in 2003. They began pulling their jerseys out of their pants after wins. They demanded teammates do it, too. Victories began resembling a lot of kids and a big pile of laundry.


"Hey, it worked in 2003," Cabrera said. "Why not again?"


Cabrera has already been there, done more things than any of these rookies. He took a Roger Clemens fastball at his chin one World Series pitch and put it into the seats the next. He shuffled from left field to third base to right field that first season without missing a beat.


Three Septembers later, at all of 23, he leads the Marlins as well as the batting race.


"One point doesn't mean anything right now," he said.


The big media crowd was around Ross, talking about his three home runs. The rookie had his big, loud day. Cabrera, meanwhile, has a bigger and quieter season.





Why are you just standing there? I said "hail" damnit.

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yep, Cabs is the wily old veteran leader on this team.




He's gotta be at least 33 in baseball years.

Making the kind of adjustments he's done at 23 is pretty special.


Won't throw me any good pitches? Fine, I'll become a more patient hitter.


Result? League-leading batting average and on-base %.


Walks are up, strikeouts are down, doubles are up, and in the end even his HR total won't be far off.

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It's true. Miggy has been lost in the shuffle. Too bad he didn't get a curtain call when he got his 100th HR.


To be batting .340 on a team full of rookies -- what a mature, disciplined hitter. :notworthy


Perfect example: After Cabs hit his 2nd second homer (his 100th) against the Nationals, in his next at-bat, he walked. How many guys would try to swing at a bad pitch to try to hit another one out?

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