CLEVELAND — Asdrubal Cabrera would prefer that his big games at the plate come during Cleveland victories, but when the production is as bountiful as it has been this year for the Indians shortstop he’s bound to look good during some of their losses, too.
Such was the case Thursday afternoon during the Indians’ 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Cabrera kept hope alive for Tribe fans with a solo home run in the sixth inning and a triple — that needed to be reviewed to ensure that it wasn’t his second homer of the game — in the eighth.
Cabrera went 2-for-3 with the two extra-base hits, a walk, a run scored and an RBI. It was the first time an Indians player had hit a triple and a home run in the same game since Andy Marte accomplished the feat on Aug. 27, 2009, in Baltimore.
“He’s been fantastic since Day 1 of spring training,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He showed up in the best shape as he has in years, and he’s come up big for us on both ends, offensively and defensively.”
Cabrera has always been a whiz in the field, making diving stops and great throws to second to enable improbable double plays.
But his career numbers at the plate before this season have been mediocre at best. In five big league seasons — all with the Indians — his best year was 2009, when he batted .308 with 68 RBIs and six home runs.
So far this season, Cabrera is batting .289 with 24 RBIs and six home runs. He leads the team in both the latter categories, sharing the home run lead with Grady Sizemore.
“He’s been a force in our lineup,” Acta said. “He’s been there to pick us up many times when (Shin-Soo) Choo or (Carlos) Santana have been struggling.
“It’s not often you see a guy who plays the middle infield (and bats in the No. 2 position) lead the team in both home runs and RBIs.”
Indeed Cabrera has shined like the famed pearl necklace he wore early in his career. He’s on pace to finish with 120 RBIs and 30 homers this season.
In typical team-player fashion, he gives the credit to the rest of the guys in the lineup.
“We have a little bit more experience on this team and everyone is really playing hard,” he said. “We seem to be putting everything together now. Everyone’s helping out, everyone’s contributing.”
The success against Rays star pitcher James Shields on Thursday was a surprise, as Shields has been nearly unhittable — he left Cleveland sporting a 4-1 record and a 2.08 ERA — and Cabrera has struggled against right-handed pitching — putting up a .255 average compared to the .327 he hits against left-handers.
But after a groundout in his first at-bat and a walk in his second plate appearance, Cabrera sent the first pitch he saw from Shields in the sixth inning 408 feet into the right-field stands.
It looked as if he had duplicated the feat two innings later, but the ball hit off the top of the wall and bounced back into the outfield. The umpires gathered to review the play, and ruled the hit a triple after a little more than a minute of deliberation.
“You really can’t go out and argue that call because they reviewed it,” Acta said. “From where I was in the dugout, it looked like it (was a home run), but they checked it out and said that it wasn’t.”
The homer extended Cabrera’s hitting streak to five games, and he’s hit safely in 12 of his last 15 games. He’s played in all 36 games, and has reached base in 31 of them.
The consistent play in the field always helps, but the boon at the plate has been a big part of the Indians’ hot start in 2011.
The boost in numbers has even taken the shortstop by surprise.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Cabrera said. “But anything can happen in the game of baseball. I just want to continue to do my best and try to do everything I can to help the team.”
Win or lose.