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With season's end, Miggy wins batting title

CHICAGO -- Justin Verlander didn't get an at-bat this year, but he had a pair of batting gloves hanging in his locker after his final start in Saturday's 4-3 loss to the White Sox. They had the number 24 on them, property of the four-time American League batting champion.

Verlander asked Miguel Cabrera for something, anything, from the game. He has a batting helmet from Cabrera's Triple Crown season in 2012, and a bat from another of his batting titles.

"I joked with him after the game, 'You know, if you keep doing really special stuff, I'm going to have your entire uniform up on my wall,'" Verlander said.

It became official after Sunday's games, during which the Tigers ended their season with a 6-0 win over the White Sox, though Cabrera's final at-bats came Saturday. Cabrera's .338 final batting average put him 18 points ahead of Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts for best in the American League, and five points ahead of Miami's Dee Gordon for best in the Majors. Cabrera's .974 OPS placed him second to Mike Trout (.991) in the American League.

Cabrera finished with a flourish on Saturday. His two-run home run was his first homer since Aug. 26 and his first extra-base hit since Sept. 18. His three-hit performance was his first since Aug. 25, and he would've had a four-hit game if not for a diving catch from White Sox second baseman Carlos Sanchez.

Cabrera's fourth batting title in five years is something just eight other players have accomplished in Major League history. He became just the seventh player ever with four AL batting titles, joining Tigers greats Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann along with Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Ted Williams and Nap Lajoie.

"Triple Crown, MVPs, he's done it all," catcher Alex Avila said. "Getting a chance to play with him has been unbelievable, and getting a chance to watch him has been great. Like I've always said, he's a once-in-a-generation type player that you never take for granted."

The Tigers had one batting champion -- Magglio Ordonez in 2007 -- in 50 years before Cabrera won his first in 2011. It shouldn't be taken for granted.

"I haven't come across a hitter like Miggy in my career other than him," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "I played with Tony Gwynn. He certainly was a great hitter. But Miggy, despite the fact that his home runs were down this year, combines power and average like no one I've seen."

White Sox manager Robin Ventura agreed.

"Miggy's the best right-handed hitter I think I've ever seen," Ventura said. "The types of pitchers we have now on a daily basis and what he does, he's so impressive."

Cabrera did not have the same power, in part because he missed six weeks with a strained left calf. Saturday's homer was his 18th this season, his second consecutive season with a drop from the previous year.

He struggled upon his return from the disabled list in mid-August. Part of it was the lack of a playoff race to drive him like the four years before. Part of it, too, was health.

Cabrera won his third straight batting title two years ago playing through a groin tear in September. He played most of the second half last season with a stress fracture in his foot, yet won AL Player of the Month honors for September. Although Ausmus said he had no surgeries coming, that didn't mean he was totally healthy.

"To be honest with you, I've got to say no," Cabrera said. "There were too many holes defensively and hitting, because I'm not able to use my legs like I used to do."

Asked what hampered him, Cabrera said, "The calf, my ankle. Everybody forgets about my ankle."

Cabrera had surgery on his right ankle in November. He returned in time for Opening Day, but he wasn't at full strength.

"I've been battling my ankle the whole year," he said. "I played with a lot of pain, but it doesn't matter. I can play with that. Hopefully next season there'll be no issues, pain-free, trying to play 100 percent every day."

Cabrera is not scheduled for any surgery, Ausmus said. Unless something changes, he'll have the offseason to work out instead of rehab for the first time in three years. He hopes to use the time to make some changes.

Yes, a four-time batting champion wants to change.

"I've got to change my approach," Cabrera said. "The last two or three years, I do the same thing. Hopefully I can be in full strength next year and I can be healthy."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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