KANSAS CITY — The Kansas City Royals, young and enthusiastic, began the year with expectations of competing for their first division title in more than two decades.
They ended it by watching history unfold at Kauffman Stadium.
Miguel Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to achieve the Triple Crown in the AL Central-champion Tigers' 1-0 victory Wednesday night, which sent Detroit into the postseason on a high note and the Royals into another frustrating offseason.
Cabrera joined a list of luminaries that includes Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig by leading the American League in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and RBIs (139).
The previous player to achieve the Triple Crown was Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
"I don't know if I've seen anything like it," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It ranks up there with a 30-win season, with hitting .400. It's extremely tough to do. I don't know if we'll ever see it again."
The game itself took a backseat to Cabrera's quest, though it turned out to be quite entertaining.
Max Scherzer pitched four innings for Detroit to test his sore right shoulder ahead of the playoffs, which the Tigers will open Saturday at home against Oakland. The bullpen took over from there, with Luis Marte (1-0) picking up the win and Luke Putkonen his first career save.
Austin Jackson drove in the only run off Royals starter Luis Mendoza (8-10), who wound up allowing six hits and three walks while striking out six in seven sharp innings.
The Royals ended up losing nine of their last 11 games, five of them to Detroit, to end the season on a sour note — just like it all began. Kansas City struggled through a 12-game losing streak early in the year that essentially dashed its hopes of ever contending. The Royals finished with a losing record for the ninth straight season and their 72 wins were just one more than last year.
All that was left for arguably the youngest lineup in baseball was to toil away in the hot summer sun, getting ready for next season, and then sit back during the first cool days of October and watch Cabrera chase one of baseball's most elusive milestones.
"A quality guy like he is, it couldn't happen to a better guy," Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "It's awesome to have a front seat and watch this. It's great for the game."
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig offered his congratulations, calling the Triple Crown "a remarkable achievement that places him amongst an elite few in all of baseball history."
"Miguel has long been one of the most accomplished hitters in the game," Selig said, "and this recognition is one that he will be able to cherish for the rest of his career."
The crowd at Kauffman Stadium gave Cabrera a standing ovation before he flied out in the first inning. He struck out in the fourth inning but remained in the game, allowing Tigers manager Jim Leyland to remove him with two outs to another standing ovation.
Cabrera high-fived his teammates as he descended into the Detroit dugout, and then sheepishly walked to the top step and waved his helmet, almost as if he'd been playing at home.
"Our fans are great, and we've seen that all year. They're very knowledgeable," Yost said. "Our whole team was doing the same thing, giving him a standing ovation. What he did was amazing."
Cabrera's milestone wasn't official until the Yankees pinch hit for Curtis Granderson in their game against the Boston Red Sox. Granderson had homered twice to reach 43 for the year, tied with the Rangers' Josh Hamilton and one shy of Cabrera.
Cabrera finished four points better than the Angles' Mike Trout, his biggest competition for MVP, to win his second straight batting title. Cabrera was the runaway leader with 139 RBIs.
"When he's over the plate, he can do anything. He's the best hitter in the game," Trout said. "I think his approach, the way he battles with two strikes — you leave one pitch over the plate that at-bat and he's going to hit it. He had an unbelievable year."
The year Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown, he was part of Boston's "Impossible Dream Team," which won the AL title and reached the World Series for the first time in more than two decades.
The Hall of Fame outfielder said in a statement, "I am glad that (Cabrera) accomplished this while leading his team to the American League Central title."
Indeed, the Tigers had already wrapped up their division, allowing them to line up their pitchers and rest some of their regulars for their postseason opener on Saturday against AL West champion Oakland, which clinched its division by beating Texas earlier in the day.
Justin Verlander will start for Detroit in the first game of the series.
"He's the best player on the planet," Verlander said, gazing over at Cabrera. "Hopefully him and I can do what we do best and put it together for a World Series."