Miguel Cabrera's drive sailed high into the Detroit night -- so high, in fact, that left fielder Alex Gordon had time to drift over to the fence and wait a couple seconds before reaching over and robbing the slugger of a home run.
That snapshot was a good example of why nobody has won baseball's Triple Crown in 45 years. It takes a special blend of power, discipline, consistency -- and, yes, luck. Going into the final few days of the season, Cabrera is making perhaps the strongest bid since Carl Yastrzemski last won it in 1967.
With four games left, Cabrera tops the American League in batting and RBIs and Saturday moved into a tie with home run leader Josh Hamilton after belting a three-run shot in a 6-4 win vs. Minnesota.
Cabrera won his first batting title last year, hitting .344 to complete a "career triple crown" after winning home run and RBI titles in previous seasons. Now he's trying to become the first player since Yastrzemski to sweep all three at the same time. Since 1967, the Triple Crown has been even more elusive in baseball than in horse racing.
Yastrzemski figures it's only a matter of time before somebody new joins the club. Since his Triple Crown season, other seemingly unapproachable marks have been surpassed.
"When Rose broke Cobb's hit record, I never thought that would happen," Yastrzemski said. "When Ripken broke Gehrig's consecutive game record, I never thought that would happen either."
In 1967, Yastrzemski hit .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBIs. Going into Game 158 today, Cabrera is hitting .327 with 43 homers and 136 RBIs.
"I want to keep my game the same way," Cabrera said recently. "... I think it's going to be a big mistake if I put extra pressure on myself."
Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby both won the Triple Crown twice. Frank Robinson did it the year before Yastrzemski, making the drought that followed even more striking.
According to STATS LLC., since Yastrzemski's Triple Crown, a player has finished atop his league in two of the three categories 45 times. That makes some sense, since a good power hitter can rack up homers and RBIs simultaneously.
Sure enough, in 41 of those 45 Triple Crown near-misses, batting average was the spoiler. Stars like Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez have all led their leagues in homers and RBIs in the same season -- only to fall short of the batting title.
That's what has made Cabrera unique. Some power hitters strike out so much they can forget about a decent batting average. Cabrera is on pace to hit at least .320 for the seventh time in eight years.
"That's the ultimate, to win the Triple Crown," slugger Jim Thome said. "I think it would be good for baseball. I think it would be good for kids of our era to say that they watched a Triple Crown."
Any number of hitters could still play spoiler to Cabrera's Triple Crown chase. Twins catcher Joe Mauer (.323) and Angels rookie phenom Mike Trout (.320) are chasing him for the batting title. Hamilton was ahead in homers, and Edwin Encarnacion was even with Cabrera at 42. Adam Dunn had 41.
So the stage is set for quite a conclusion to the regular season. And, oh yeah, the Tigers are fighting the White Sox for the AL Central title.
"It's hard. A lot of attention right now. Here, even in Venezuela," Cabrera said. "Try to stay out, don't read the papers. Try not to think about it."