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"I lost a lot of water," Fielder says. "My hamstrings were just on fire. I couldn't move them. It was the worst feeling—not because I was throwing up, but because I knew I couldn't play. That's a terrible feeling for me."
Fielder got two IVs the next day but still had to sit out. (Or, more accurately: lie down. He went back to his hotel room.) That snapped his streak of 326 straight games played, the longest in the majors at the time. He returned to the lineup on Sept. 14 and began another streak. Through Sunday it was at 404 games, the longest current run in the majors.
In an era of vanishing sluggers, the Tigers have two who never miss a game. Fielder has averaged 160 games per season since he became a full-time major leaguer in 2006. Cabrera has averaged 158 games a year since '04, his first full season. Neither has ever been on the disabled list. "You write those two names down every night," Detroit manager Jim Leyland says, "you feel pretty good."
The Tigers signed Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract in January 2012, and at first glance it seemed as though owner Mike Ilitch had hit for the cycle of free-agency mistakes. The contract was enormous, at the time the fourth-most lucrative in baseball history. Fielder, who's listed at 5'11" and 275 pounds, has the kind of wide body that supposedly ages poorly. He was also an impulse purchase: The Tigers had no interest in him until incumbent designated hitter Victor Martinez tore up his knee a week before Fielder signed. And Fielder's position, first base, was already occupied by Detroit's best player, Cabrera.
Seventeen months later the Tigers are thrilled with the signing. Fielder's durability and relative youth (he turned 29 last month) lower the risk of his massive contract. And rather than diminish Cabrera's value to the team, Fielder's arrival actually increased it. The 6'4", 240-pound Cabrera was willing and able to move to third base, a tougher position to fill and to play, and Fielder's presence in the lineup has made Cabrera more dangerous.
Last season, his first hitting in front of Fielder, Cabrera won the Triple Crown, leading the American League with a .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. This season he is making that look like an off year: Through 61 games, a little more than a third of the season, he had a .431 on-base percentage and a .593 slugging percentage ... and that was just against righties. Against lefties he had a .508 OBP and was slugging .824. Overall Cabrera was hitting .363 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs.
Sometimes in the dugout Cabrera jokes with teammates, "I'm hot!" But he is incapable of truly bragging, partly because he always expects to be hot. It is the burden of his talent. Cabrera says there is only one real difference between his great start to 2013 and his other outstanding seasons: He has not slumped. This is by design. Cabrera tries to address swing flaws "before [they become] a slump," he says. "Don't let it get to that point."
Through Sunday, Cabrera was on pace for 177 RBIs this season, which puts him in a position to threaten Hack Wilson's 83-year-old record of 191. We can argue about the value of the RBI as a stat, but that's still an enormous pile of them, and Cabrera credits some of them to Fielder. In his first four years in Detroit, Cabrera averaged 0.73 RBIs per game. With Fielder hitting behind him, that number has jumped to 0.93.
"You can see a difference," Cabrera says. "They pitch to me more. They say, We've gotta get someone out. I know they are trying to get me first. I see a lot of good pitches."
If Fielder were a conventional slugger, teams could pitch around Cabrera and try to strike out the man behind him. But Fielder has excellent plate discipline—this season he has walked 36 times, most in the AL—and his career strikeout percentage (19.1%) is below the MLB average. He's also very good at making pitchers pay for walking Cabrera. In 36 plate appearances after Cabrera walks, Fielder is batting .388, with a .666 slugging percentage and 21 RBIs.