STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Major League Baseball's regular season ended yesterday with the kind of day that would warm the commissioner's heart: fans cheering from coast to coast, a towering achievement for one very good hitter, and the promise of even more excitement to come as the playoffs begin. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman has been tracking this season. He's on the line.
Good morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello.
INSKEEP: Got to start with the hitter I mentioned. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera did something that no one has done in 45 years.
GOLDMAN: He sure did. He won the Triple Crown, which is harder than winning the other Triple Crown in horse racing. The last time that happened was 1978. The last time a hitter finished first in home runs, batting average and runs batted in - that's the Triple Crown - was in 1967, when Carl Yastrzemski did it.
This one kind of got down to the wire for Cabrera. He had 44 home runs, a .330 batting average and 139 RBIs. Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees and Josh Hamilton of the Rangers finished with 43 home runs. And super rookie Mike Trout of the Angels almost caught Cabrera in batting average. He finished four points behind. But Cabrera did it.
And he joins an impressive list of others who have done it, including Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Tip O'Neill.
INSKEEP: What? Tip O'Neill?
GOLDMAN: I was just seeing if you were awake. Yeah, Tip O'Neill, not the former speaker of the House. He was actually an outfielder in the late-19th century. However, Tip O'Neill, the former House speaker, was named after Tip O'Neill the baseball player who won the Triple Crown.
INSKEEP: Tip O'Neill the baseball player, that's the guy who said all baseball is local, I think. Isn't he the guy who said it? Can't keep it straight. Can't keep it straight.
Anyway, amazing achievement. You just think about that for a moment and you realize that hitting for power can be different than hitting for consistency. And to be great in all of those stats is pretty incredible.
GOLDMAN: And hitting in the clutch, which RBIs are, hitting with men in scoring position. Absolutely.
INSKEEP: OK. Now, what about the Oakland A's? I mean, Moneyball here. We're talking about a small market team without the money, without the resources that other teams have. And there they are, winning their division.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. They stunned Texas and won the American League West division yesterday. And the clincher yesterday was a microcosm of how it happened. The Rangers went ahead early in the game. The A's clawed back and tied the score. And then a lazy dropped pop-fly by Texas superstar Josh Hamilton allowed the go-ahead runs, and the A's piled on that, winning 12-5. And then they rushed the field.
And I think they're running out of champagne, because this was their second wild celebration since Monday. Monday, they clinched the playoff spot. Yesterday, they won the division. So they need to restock.
But they had a similar surge over the course of the season. They had a losing record the first half, 13 games behind the Rangers, who had played in the last two World Series. And then the A's went on a tear: 57 and 26 from July through yesterday. They did it with a lot of young guys, who I guess didn't know any better. One hundred and three of their 162 regular season games they started a rookie pitcher. Very impressive.
INSKEEP: Just to be clear, Tom. It's California. They have to call it sparkling wine, I think, rather than champagne. But, anyway, the post season begins tomorrow, historic couple of games, first ever wildcard lose-and-you're-out games, here. Who's playing?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, you've got Baltimore at Texas. And you've got St. Louis in Atlanta. The winners move on to play in the divisional series. Baseball added another team for each league so there would be this elimination game. It's more excitement for two cities. It's exciting for fans to have playoffs start with a single elimination game.
It also gives new importance to winning your division, as you can see with Texas. Had the Rangers just squeezed out another victory over the A's and won that division, they wouldn't have to be in this harrowing game where they're nine innings away from an early exit after dominating most of the regular season.
INSKEEP: OK. Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You bet.
INSKEEP: That's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman.
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