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Fielder's effectiveness behind Cabrera becomes more exaggerated late in games, when he can explode the by-the-book strategy of pitching around Cabrera and bringing in a lefthander to face Fielder. Last year Fielder had an .808 OPS against lefties—respectable but well below his 1.017 mark against righties. His explanation is simple: The Tigers did not have a lefthanded batting-practice pitcher. Now they do, and Fielder takes as much BP against lefties as any other player in the majors. The result: His OPS against southpaws this year is 1.045.
Leyland's admiration for his two sluggers is so complete that in a recent discussion of pinch running, he made one thing clear: "I'm not running for Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera. Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn't, but I ain't doing it. I'm keeping those sumbitches in there all the time."
Fielder and Cabrera are paid to be teammates, but not to be friends—that just happened. Fielder remembers Cabrera's greeting him with a big smile on the first day of last year's spring training. Shortly after, Cabrera says, "[Prince's] son [Haven], he told me: 'Man, that's weird. I thought I knew you for a long time.' I said, 'I feel the same thing.' When you feel that connection with people, that's good."
Cabrera and Fielder have a complicated, multigesture handshake that occasionally ends with a hug, often with Cabrera's mouth open, like that of an excited little kid. When one of them hits a mammoth home run in batting practice, the other usually follows with a blast of his own. "They feed off each other," Leyland says. "There's a comfort zone there."
Cabrera and Fielder talk about hitting sometimes, and Tigers batting coach Lloyd McClendon says, "I imagine it's one hell of a conversation." But Fielder says it really isn't: "We don't like to stay too long on it, because then you're thinking too much."
Fielder says Cabrera has "helped me a lot going opposite field," and Fielder has talked to Cabrera about pulling the ball. Cabrera says it doesn't matter that they hit from opposite sides of the plate. They talk about how to use their legs and how they hit inside or outside pitches. Presumably pitches over the middle are not worth discussing. "He always has a plan of what he is going to do to a pitcher," Cabrera says. "That's when you see people are good: They anticipate what the situation is going to be."
Anticipation, even more than strength or coordination, is what makes the two sluggers great. Fielder likes to know a pitcher's repertoire, but he doesn't want to think too much at the plate. He trusts his instincts. Cabrera rarely watches video of opposing pitchers and doesn't want too much information about their tendencies. In hitters' meetings he often tells McClendon to stop talking, even though the other hitters are still listening. Cabrera prefers to solve pitchers by watching them that day.
Veteran outfielder Torii Hunter, who signed with Detroit in the off-season, watches video into the early-morning hours after games and pores over scouting reports every day as if he's studying for a final exam. Then the game starts and he realizes Cabrera has all the answers. "I'm in awe," Hunter says. "He makes adjustments every pitch. He sees the two-seamer move six inches, or a cutter move six inches, or a slider that doesn't break as well. He is processing all these things every pitch. He'll take a pitch, I can see him shake his head ... he's like, O.K., this ball is moving two inches, four inches. And then he swings two inches inside the ball so it can hit his barrel. This guy is like a genius, man."
McClendon says good hitters can identify a pitch an instant after it is released. Cabrera seems to know it while the pitcher still holds the ball. After Cabrera hit a home run off a changeup this season, McClendon asked him if he was looking for that pitch. "He said, 'No, I just saw it. Everything slowed down, and I knew it was going to be a changeup.' And he looked at me and said, 'Is that a gift?' "
McClendon laughed. "I said, 'Yeah, that's a gift.' "