Cabrera has always dazzled with his glove, but over the past two seasons he has turned an incredible corner in the batter's box, evolving into one of the top overall talents at his position in the process. He is a quiet member of Cleveland's clubhouse, choosing to use his play on the field to do the talking for him.
"He's a great player," Indians closer and fellow All-Star Chris Perez said. "He can affect a game in a lot of different ways."
On Tuesday night, when baseball's elite stars took the stage at Kauffman Stadium for the 83rd All-Star Game, Cabrera joined Perez on the American League squad. In their second consecutive Midsummer Classic experience together, the National League came away with an 8-0 victory, sealing home-field advantage for the NL's representative in the World Series.
Cabrera entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in the fifth inning. A year ago, Cabrera started for the AL in place of Jeter, who sat out the All-Star Game at Chase Field. Facing Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, Cabrera drew a walk to load the bases, but the AL was unable to take advantage.
In the eighth inning, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel struck Cabrera out.
Perez, who turned in one shutout inning in last summer's All-Star Game, did not pitch in this year's contest. The Indians closer warmed up in the bullpen in the first inning, when Detroit starter Justin Verlander was laboring through a 35-pitch effort. Verlander finished the frame after giving up five runs, and Perez sat down for the remainder of the evening.
Perez said he was told before the game he would serve as a backup for any pitcher whose pitch count got out of hand. Once he warmed up and took a seat, the closer had a good feeling he would not enter the game, and that was fine by him.
"If this was my first one, I'd want to get in there, obviously," Perez said. "But hopefully I can come back and maybe pitch next year. At the same time, I pitched last year. I enjoyed the experience."
During pregame player introductions, Kansas City fans unleashed a chorus of boos when Perez's name was announced. Perez, who angered Royals fans a couple of times earlier this year with comments and actions, smiled and tipped his cap. He laughed about it after the game.
"I expected it," Perez said. "It wasn't that loud, I didn't think. ... I think they were doing it more funny-wise -- not mean-wise. It's fine. It's cool. It's another memory."
Overall, it was an uneventful night for the pair of Cleveland cornerstones.
Cabrera, in particular, has emerged as an integral part of the Tribe's core group. The Indians made that clear on the eve of Opening Day by signing the two-time All-Star to a two-year contract extension worth $16.5 million. Cabrera, who will make $4.55 million this season, will earn $6.5 million in 2013 and then $10 million in '14.
"I wish it would've been a little longer," Perez said of Cabrera's contract. "I love having him back there behind me. He brings it every day."
Cabrera said he has never felt any kind of pressure to live up to his deal.
"I'm the kind of player who doesn't think too much about those kind of things," Cabrera said. "I just look to play my game and do my best whether I have a contract or not. I don't want to put that pressure on myself."
Few current shortstops are at Cabrera's level.
Last season, Cabrera enjoyed a breakout showing, setting a franchise record for home runs by a shortstop (25) and collecting the most RBIs in a season (92) for a Tribe shortstop since 1948. Dating back to the start of the 2011 campaign, Cabrera has piled up 36 home runs, 52 doubles, 130 runs and 134 RBIs.
Over the past season and a half, Cabrera has led American League shortstops in doubles, RBIs, game-winning RBIs (20), extra-base hits (92), total bases (420), slugging percentage (.463), on-base plus slugging percentage (.805).
Cabrera had just 18 homers combined across his first four seasons in the Majors before enjoying his offensive eruption a year ago. During Spring Training, veteran infielder (and former Indian) Orlando Cabrera watched the shortstop's power display in batting practice and discussed how to carry it into games.
"Whatever Orlando Cabrera said to him, something clicked," Perez said. "He always hit those homers in BP. Bombs. Easy. And then the game would start and it'd be doubles, singles. I mean, he was a good hitter, but not getting that loft."
Through it all, Cabrera has also taken the field at times when other players might have asked for a day off. That is something that Perez says has helped the shortstop earn a high level of respect from his teammates.
"He's played through some injuries -- not at 100 percent," Perez said. "People don't always know about it, but he's been banged up and he's still out there. You have to respect that. It's a grind."
Cabrera takes pride in that part of his game.
"I don't want to leave the field for a little thing," Cabrera said. "I try to be ready every day. Sure, I get tired. But it's a long season and you've got to play no matter if you have a little injury. I'm that kind of player."
Cabrera has become a leader for an Indians club that is trying to contend for the AL Central crown. The shortstop embraces the role, but he also hopes his teammates still view him the same as they did in the past.
"I want to be the same guy in the group," Cabrera said. "I don't want people to see me a little bit higher. I just want to be the same as every other guy."
Cabrera has been so much more for the Indians, though.
"He's our MVP," Perez said.