ATLANTA -- Miguel Cabrera never played with Jose Fernandez, but the tragic death of the Marlins' pitcher in Cabrera's offseason hometown of Miami hit him hard. It still resonates with him. It also left him with a lesson.
"Never take anything for granted," Cabrera said after his season ended suddenly on Sunday in the Tigers' 1-0 loss.
Cabrera meant that about life, and he meant that about baseball. A bad game isn't the end of the world. But it's also important to appreciate every game.
"Never take anything for granted," Cabrera repeated, "and try to play every game no matter what."
As Cabrera said this, he was still struggling to accept the fact that there are no more games left for him to play this year. Detroit's late charge for a postseason spot, fueled in part by his late-season hitting, fell a game short, sending him from the possibility of extra tiebreakers and travel to the reality of heading home.
"I was telling guys, 'What am I going to do?'" Cabrera said. "You don't make plans because you want to be in the race and you want to be in the playoffs. Right now, I have to think what I'm going to do. I'm kind of like, 'Let's keep playing.'"
The way Cabrera was hitting, he'd understandably want to keep swinging. Cabrera batted .349 (37-for-106) with 10 home runs, 27 RBIs, 16 walks and a 1.109 OPS from Sept. 2 to season's end. His final week included a stretch of 10 hits in 11 at-bats, four of them home runs, and 13 RBIs. He finished the season on a 10-game hitting streak.
For that, Cabrera won both American League Player of the Week and AL Player of the Month on Monday, beating out teammate Justin Upton for the latter. It marked Cabrera's 15th Player of the Week honor and his third in September over the past five seasons.
At the same time, Cabrera's body is ready for a break. His right ankle, which underwent surgery for bone spurs two years ago and flared up on him in August, bothered him again down the stretch. He felt it when he slid into bases or after balls on defense, though his aggressive baserunning in recent games made him look healthier than he was.
Considering how many injuries Cabrera has played through in postseason races over the years, it's not a surprise. Considering the way he hit, it kind of is.
"It was hard, but you know me," Cabrera said. "I want to play."
Cabrera said he plans to see a doctor about the ankle in the next week, so that's one thing on his suddenly open schedule.
"I have to check my ankle again," Cabrera said.
Ironically, Cabrera's last Player of the Month honor came in September 2014, when he played through bone spurs in the same ankle along with a fracture in his foot.
Once his ankle situation is resolved, Cabrera will go about his offseason training and come back for 2017, a season in which he'll turn 34 in April. When the Braves brought some of their former greats onto the field on Sunday to celebrate the last game at Turner Field, he greeted many of them like old friends. Chipper Jones ran in from the outfield to hug him as he warmed up down the left-field line.
"I played a lot of games against these guys," Cabrera said, "so to see them back, to see they remember me when I was young, it was nice. Because I feel like all the guys when I came up the first three, four years, they're gone, they're retired. It's kind of sad."
Cabrera is at a point in his career where he can't take games for granted. At the same time, when he sees the young faces in the Tigers' clubhouse, he sees a chance to win again. And it pushes him.
"I thought about that," Cabrera said. "I think people in Detroit have got to feel proud, because I think they've got some good players for a lot of years. You have a young catcher in [James] McCann. He's still learning the league, and he's going to be great [behind] the plate and offensively. You've got a lot of young guys pitching that can throw the ball. I think we're in a good situation for a lot of years."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.