You hear it talked about every year, though usually a few months later than this: that signature moment. In college football, it isn’t enough anymore to just put up dominant numbers when vying for a Heisman Trophy, you also need to make that one play that stands out to the voters as the moment that defines your greatness. Desmond Howards’s punt return or Reggie Bush’s unbelievable run through a whole team of defenders; that’s the Heisman moment the voters look for.
It usually isn’t a prerequisite of an MVP campaign, but this season in the American League, that Heisman moment may wind up making the deciding the race. Mike Trout has the numbers, sure, but he also has authored a play that remains burned into the retinas of the voters. Earlier this season, Trout made a catch we’ve seen replayed a thousand times now when he leapt over the wall in Baltimore to rob a home run.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera has finished in the top five of the MVP balloting in each of the past two years and figures to do so again in 2012. He’s leading the league in batting average, just as he did a year ago, he’s first also in slugging, total bases and OPS. Cabrera is fifth in home runs, four behind the league leader, and tied for the lead in RBI.
For all of his greatness this season, however, Cabrera didn’t have that signature moments for voters to point to as the day he locked up the MVP award. That moment would have happened on Sunday in Cleveland, if not for a blown save by Detroit’s closer, Jose Valverde, in a game the Tigers lost 7-6.
The Tigers had staked Rick Porcello to a 3-0 lead before Cleveland began chipping away. Detroit’s defense didn’t help, especially in the fifth inning, when the Tigers had four consecutive would-be double-play grounders and failed to turn any of them. Tigers manager Jim Leyland was ejected while arguing tow safe calls at first base in that inning, one that allowed Cleveland to take the lead. The very next inning, first base umpire Brian Knight missed a call that cost the Tigers another run. The first two plays were questionable, but the call in the sixth was clearly missed.
The White Sox had already won, the Tigers had struggled against Cleveland all year long, and this game felt like one Detroit had no shot at winning. The players were all griping at the umpires, the manager had already been tossed, every possible break had gone the Indians’ way. In the seventh, the Tigers saw Joe Smith on the hill and knew that with Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez due next, it was probably now or never. The Tigers put the first two runners on base and Cabrera provided his Heisman moment by launching a three-run bomb to left-center field.
That blast should have changed the season, or the very least this game. With one mighty swing, Cabrera wiped away the controversial calls, wiped away the injuries suffered by Alex Avila and Austin Jackson, wiped away the defensive blunders. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Valverde and the Indians lineup didn’t cooperate with that storyline.
And so Cabrera remains without a signature moment and seems destined for another runner-up finish in the balloting.
Unless, of course, he wins the triple crown.