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Cabrera leads Tigers into All-Star spotlight

Cabrera leads Tigers into All-Star spotlight

ANAHEIM -- The last time the Tigers had anybody in the All-Star starting lineup, Ivan Rodriguez was a Midsummer Classic mainstay, a 12-time starter behind the plate. Miguel Cabrera isn't nearly at that recognition level yet, but he'd like to be.

This might be his chance.

"He's been on the map," teammate Justin Verlander said. "He's just not a big sign on the map. It can be big for him, I think, to get this exposure and go out and show the world what he can do."

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While the Tigers ended up with three players at this year's event, including Verlander for the third time in four years and Jose Valverde as their first All-Star closer in a decade, much of Detroit's focus will be on Cabrera, who seems to be settling into the All-Star spotlight as well. He entered Monday as arguably the favorite to win the State Farm Home Run Derby, and he'll go into Tuesday night in the heart of the American League batting order.

More than a reward for a spectacular first half, he has the potential to change the game with one swing.

Cabrera sat patiently during the American League news conferences at the Anaheim Marriott and answered a stream of questions for close to an hour. He then had a short break before going to the Home Run Derby news conference and another set of questions. Not even last year, when controversy on the final weekend of the regular season put him in the national spotlight for the wrong reasons, did he have that much attention.

He handled it quite well, smiling at some times, conversing at others. The more open personality Detroit has seen from him all year was on display for a wider audience.

"It's a different feeling," Cabrera said. "I think the people here start to talk more about you. Now I'm going to be in the starting lineup. I'm going to hit in the Home Run Derby. So I think I've got a chance that people talk more."

He wasn't elected by fans to start, instead replacing injured Justin Morneau at first base. But batting third in the American League batting order between Derek Jeter and Josh Hamilton counts for a good amount of recognition itself.

He sounded almost apologetic Saturday when he heard he was going to start in Morneau's place, not wanting to take any joy in somebody's injury. Still, he's appreciative of the chance to start.

Cabrera went to the All-Star Game four times with the Marlins, but never cracked the lineup. He was recognized as one of the best hitters in the game several years ago, but hadn't made an All-Star Game with the Tigers until now.

With a .346 average, 22 home runs and 77 RBIs entering the break, he's pretty tough to miss now.

"It means a lot," Cabrera said, "because I think all the eyes of the world are going to be on the All-Star Game right now. It's a time when people see you and people know who you are. Here are all the best players in the league and in the world. You get your chance and you try to do your best."

They were already talking about the Triple Crown, with Cabrera having the best chance to pull off the feat last accomplished by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Cabrera enters the break atop the Majors in RBIs and in a virtual tie with Hamilton for the lead in batting average. His 22 home runs trail only Blue Jays All-Star Jose Bautista's 24.

"I think that's too soon," Cabrera said. "I don't think about that. It's going to be two more months. I want to focus on winning games. If it happens, it happens. You have to not put pressure on yourself. You have to be yourself and go out there and play every day hard."

Cabrera seemed pretty much himself Monday, smiling and getting some laughs when he talked about his Home Run Derby strategy. So, too, did his Tigers teammates. Valverde was very much his usual jovial self when he talked about getting back to the Midsummer Classic for the first time since 2007.

He has been here before, but he said this is his best time, because it's his best year.

"You know what? This is my best year," Valverde said. "I'd pick this year No. 1, and then I'd pick '07 No. 2. I think '10 is the best because all my life has changed. I don't do the same things I've done before. I'm happy."

While Cabrera will be in the starting lineup, Valverde might get a chance to cap these All-Star festivities Tuesday night. Without Mariano Rivera, American League manager Joe Girardi mentioned Valverde as a possibility in a save situation should the AL get a chance to close out yet another victory.

"To close that game, for me, it would be exciting," Valverde said. "It's my second All-Star Game, and this is the first time I'm pitching. To play for all these All-Stars, like Derek Jeter, Alex [Rodriguez], my boy over there Cabrera, I think it's very exciting for me."

Verlander, too, could get a chance to pitch, something he couldn't do last year after pitching the previous Sunday. He was a last-minute addition to the roster once other All-Star pitchers were ruled out by pitching Sunday, so the irony was not lost.

"It's a little bit different," Verlander said. "I'll probably have to come to the field a little bit more prepared. You're still here to enjoy everything, but with home-field advantage at the World Series at stake, you have to go out there and win a ballgame. If my name gets called, I'm going to go out there and do everything I can to get however many outs I'm asked to get."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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