"I've managed a lot of players, and some great ones, but I've never seen anything like this," Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said.
Leyland lifted Cabrera from the game with two outs in the bottom of the fourth. Ramon Santiago ran out to take Cabrera's place in the field, and the American League Most Valuable Player Award candidate received a hug. Cabrera made his way to the dugout as the Kauffman Stadium crowd rose to its feet in a standing ovation. The crowd was a big one at 30,383, and 12,503 of those tickets were sold on Wednesday.
Cabrera tipped his cap to the fans and he received hugs from teammates in the dugout. The Tigers on the field took off their gloves and clapped, and cheering grew louder as the fans requested another appearance from the Triple Crown winner. Cabrera made his curtain call, once again tipping his hat and gesturing in thanks to the Royals' dugout, where players and coaches all rose in applause.
"We were just fans, really, standing on top of the dugout and cheering him on just like everybody else here," Tigers ace Justin Verlander said. "I don't think he's very liked in this stadium, and these fans gave him a standing ovation. That's pretty special, and I think it's great that they recognized what he did."
Cabrera finished his regular season with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. There was no multi-homer day from Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton in Oakland. Mike Trout didn't go 6-for-6 in Seattle. Even Curtis Granderson, who hit two home runs in the Yankees' win over the Red Sox to come within one of Cabrera, was removed from his game in the seventh for a pinch-hitter.
Even the opposing Royals were happy to be around such a feat.
"It was neat to see what he did," said Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur. "It hadn't happened in 45 years and for me to be a part of it and see it was really cool. ... It was a lot of fun to see. And it was something that's well-deserved, and I really hope that the [AL] MVP is next for him because he really deserves it."
Meanwhile, though, on a night celebrating the utmost in offensive achievement, runs were hard to come by.
Detroit struck for the game's only run, thanks to the baserunning of Omar Infante.
Infante singled to leadoff the top of the fifth against Royals starter Luis Mendoza, and proceeded to steal second during the following at-bat. After a strikeout, he stole third and scored easily on an Austin Jackson hustle double into left-center field.
The double was Jackson's second hit of the night, and he departed after the hit as the proud owner of his first career .300 season.
"I was kind of nervous going up there that last at-bat," Jackson said, "but you're just trying to get a good pitch to hit, and just put it in play with a runner on third."
A quartet of Tigers hurlers blanked the Royals over the course of the evening. Max Scherzer started the game despite being deemed unable to do so the night before, and he needed a lot of pitches to get through his four innings of work. The righty sustained a twisted right ankle during Monday's AL Central-clinching celebration, but nonetheless he made his first start since Sept. 23 against the Twins.
"I needed to come out here and get my work in, to get some game experience. It was an option for me to throw a [simulated] game. You just can't simulate game speed," Scherzer said. "I felt my ankle was healthy enough. I felt good, and I wanted to come out here tonight and work my pitch count in game time. Doing that, I thought I was able to throw the ball really well tonight. It set me up pretty well for the playoffs."
Scherzer's postseason tune-up certainly could've been more efficient. He had 65 pitches after three innings, generated mostly by a 29-pitch third, and he finished the night with 75 tosses.
"I felt good," he said. "I could have kept going, but obviously we wanted to have a pitch count. Seventy-five was the number that we liked. It was the right number because my arm fatigued at 75 not having pitched here for a while. That was important for me to be able to get into a game and have that happen. Now, I'm going into the postseason healthy, and I feel I'll be on a full workload."
With the regular season in the books, the Tigers will now square off against the AL West champion Oakland A's in the Division Series, starting Saturday in Detroit. But the Tigers said this was Cabrera's night.
"It's great for the game of baseball," Verlander said. "It's something extremely special, something you haven't seen in a long time. Most people here weren't alive when it happened last time and probably won't be alive next time it happens.
"Unless it's him again."