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The Meaning of Melky Cabrera’s Cycle

The cycle is the strangest of all baseball achievements, simultaneously overrated and underappreciated. To hit a single, double, triple, and home run in a game, as Yankees center-fielder Melky Cabrera did yesterday, is more a matter of freak-show happenstance than an awesome display of dominance — after all, you get the same total number of bases if you hit two homers and a double, and that happens all the time. (And you’d be guaranteed to score two runs yourself, as opposed to a cycle’s one.) The list of players who have done it in the last decade include such luminaries as Chad Moeller, Greg Colbrunn, and Jeff Frye.

Still, Cabrera’s achievement to help beat the White Sox (and end an ugly three-game losing streak) was the first Yankees cycle in nearly fourteen years, since Tony Fernandez hit one in September 1995 — and, strangely, only the fourth in 52 years, following Bobby Murcer and Mickey Mantle. That’s a small number for a team as historically powerful as the Yankees. The Mets have had nine in their 47-year history — though, famously, zero no-hitters. (Everyone freaks out over no-hitters, but they’re almost as common as cycles — there have been 263 of the former in baseball history, and 287 of the latter. Cycles have expanded their lead as baseball veered toward offense over the last twenty years; since 1990, baseball has seen 67 cycles, and only 46 no-hitters.)

Cabrera might seem an odd person to break the Yankee cycle drought. (The only other current Yankee with one is Alex Rodriguez, who achieved it with the Mariners back in 1997.) Cabrera has mostly been considered, over his erratic Yankees career, a disappointment; he’s Exhibit A for those who believe the Yankees overhype their own prospects. Cabrera broke in with the Yankees in 2005, at the raw age of 20, and raised eyebrows with a .752 slugging percentage OPS in 2006, his best season to date. Since then, he’s flubbed every opportunity for a regular position on the team; his bat never justified his playing center field every day. (If Brett Gardner is taking away at-bats from you, you’re in trouble.)

Cabrera has come around this season, with an .821 OPS, his first double-digit homer season and an inordinate amount of late-game clutch hits. There’s a school that says the Yankees didn’t give Cabrera enough time in the minor leagues, that he was rushed to the big club, his development stunted. We might be seeing those first seeds of stardom we’ve been waiting for since he was a teenager; after all, he turns 25 next season week. But that doesn’t mean the Yankees still won’t be kicking the tires on some free-agent center-fielders next year … or booting Cabrera for the new phenom, Austin Jackson.

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Photo: Getty Images