Reds vet Cabrera a postseason fixture

Reds vet Cabrera a postseason fixture

CINCINNATI -- Like turning leaves and crisp air, Orlando Cabrera has become a fall fixture. The postseason? It's almost become the Reds shortstop's personal Octoberfest.

Even casual baseball fans might be able to pick out Cabrera on the TV screens during the playoffs. Now that the Reds have clinched the National League Central crown, the 35-year-old will be headed to the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years -- and with his fifth different team.

It's always special, regardless of how many trips he makes to the playoffs.

"We all make a lot of money, but we all can't win our division," Cabrera said. "We all can't get a chance to compete to be the No. 1 team. That's something I try to make my teams realize. It doesn't matter how many times you go to the playoffs, you always want to come back. That's what really matters. Of course you want to win the World Series, but you have to get to the playoffs first. Once in the playoffs, anything can happen."

In 2004, Cabrera won a World Series with the Red Sox. In '05 and '07, he went to the playoffs with the Angels. He made it to October as a member of the White Sox in '08. Last season, it was with the Twins.

This is no mere coincidence. Teams have coveted Cabrera, hoping that his postseason experience and veteran leadership were the missing ingredients that could increase their chances for success.

"I care about winning and losing, that's it," Cabrera said. "For me, it's always been a big motivation -- knowing there is something at the end as a payoff. I'm really disappointed when it doesn't happen that way, regardless of the numbers I put up. The numbers always look better when your team goes to the playoffs."

While superstar players like Derek Jeter are frequent postseason participants, others like Cabrera and Braves outfielder Eric Hinske have also become ubiquitous in postseason play. Hinske has been to the last three World Series with three different teams.

In part because he missed a month with an oblique injury, Cabrera's numbers aren't awe inspiring. He's batting .262 and his four homers and 41 RBIs entering play Wednesday are on pace for his lowest totals since he became a regular big league player.

When a team's intangibles are measured, Cabrera looms much larger.

"It's hard to quantify leadership and the right way to play the game," Reds bench coach Chris Speier said. "I think he brings that to the field every day. No. 1, he's a very intelligent player. His head is always in the game. So I think there is a stabilizing sense from our side that we can leave the infield alone. They're in pretty good hands there. With a young team like we have, to have that type of player out there on the field is real important."

A free agent again this past winter, Cabrera was signed to a one-year, $3.02 million contract by the Reds on Feb. 1. While Cabrera is a two-time Gold Glove winner, the Reds signed him because they wanted more offensive production from the position, and they wanted to add a pressure-tested player to the inexperienced clubhouse.

Players from his previous clubhouses certainly would offer references.

"He's huge," infielder and former Twins teammate Nick Punto said. "He's been in the postseason a lot and now he's going again with the Reds. It tells a lot about his passion and his desire. He played with a lot of emotion and energy. He was always out there. He didn't miss an inning. He wanted to play every day. It goes a long way in a clubhouse, and he played with a lot of emotion. "

Cabrera is vocal. He is accountable and he doesn't let others be unaccountable.

"That is so huge today," Speier said. "In today's game, it's hard to find those kinds of players that take the initiative to talk to other players and give [constructive] criticism. It takes it off of [manager] Dusty [Baker's] and the coaches' shoulders and where it should be -- right in the clubhouse."

"I like to think that I can influence people in a positive way, especially in how to play the game and how to approach tough situations," Cabrera said. "I'm trying to reach a goal, which is to win."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter@m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.