Tigers, Rangers show grit in Game 3

BY Ken Rosenthal • October 11, 2011

There are times, too many times, when the filthy-rich athletes dog it and drive all of us nuts.

And then there are times like Tuesday night, times when the passion is so raw and the pain is so intense that you’re reminded just how much the game means to most men in uniform.

Want to know how much it means to Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez?

Here’s what he said after injuring his intercostal (ribcage) muscle on the home run that tied the score and ignited the Tigers’ 5-2 victory over the Rangers in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series:

“The only way I won’t play tomorrow is if I wake up and I’m dead.”

Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre didn’t use such stark terms, but voiced a similar sentiment before walking out of Comerica Park with a pronounced limp, a limp caused by a ball he fouled off his left leg, just below the kneecap, in the fourth inning.

X-rays revealed only a bruise, not that the diagnosis mattered much to Beltre. The Rangers lead the series, two games to one. Beltre, like Martinez, plans to play in Game 4, no matter how bad it looks, no matter how badly his leg feels.

“I’m not speedy,” he told reporters. “I don’t need to run hard.”

So there you have it.

Two gallant men, two high-priced free agents, two former members of a Red Sox club that seemed to lack a certain toughness without them this season.

And two teams, scratching and clawing to reach the World Series, engaged in not just a battle of skill, but also a battle of attrition.

“Both teams — I certainly want to credit mine first of all — but both teams are showing what it’s all about,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Tigers left fielder Delmon Young, yet another injured player, took it even further.

“It’s postseason baseball right now,” Young said. “Guys are going to try to go out there and do whatever they can.

“You saw Victor go do it, Beltre grimacing in pain with every swing he took. You never know when you’re going to be back in this situation. Guys try to do everything they can to go out and play.”

Young started Game 2 just three days after straining his oblique in the Tigers’ division series clincher over the Yankees. He was too sore to start Game 3 of the ALCS, forcing Leyland to change his lineup 3 1/2 hours before the first pitch.

Young is down. Magglio Ordonez is out. A younger Tigers outfielder, Brennan Boesch, hasn’t played since Aug. 31 due to his torn tendon in his right thumb. And don’t forget catcher Alex Avila, who is playing with a sore knee.

“We don’t need another (injury), believe me,” Martinez said.

Martinez said he felt “a sharp pain” during his swing when he led off the fourth inning with a home run off Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis for his first hit of the series.

His trip around the bases was unusually slow — so slow that when he crossed home plate, he asked Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba to tell Lewis that he wasn’t trying to showboat, it was just “really uncomfortable” for him to run.

Martinez said that Torrealba replied, “Don’t worry about it.”

Later, Torrealba said, “I knew right away he was hurt, the way he was running the bases.”

Did Torrealba even suspect Martinez was showboating?

“I know the guy,” Torrealba said. “That’s not him.”

Martinez walked slowly to the dugout, then was shown on camera flinging his helmet to the ground as he walked down the steps toward the clubhouse.

At that point, it seemed impossible to imagine that he would continue playing, even as a DH. Martinez and the Tigers’ head trainer, Kevin Rand, disappeared from the dugout and began treatment immediately.

As luck would have it, the Tigers rallied with two outs the following inning. Martinez popped into the dugout, grabbed his bat and raced back down the steps. He said that he took some “pretty decent” swings underneath, that he was “good enough to go out there.”

Young, too, grabbed a bat around the same time, but said that he was only getting loose for a possible pinch-hit appearance later in the game, not preparing to replace Martinez.

Still, it wasn’t clear whether Martinez was simply a decoy when he appeared in the batting circle with runners on first and third and Miguel Cabrera batting. After Cabrera hit the go-ahead double in the fifth, it still wasn’t clear what Martinez could do; Lewis walked him on five pitches.

Martinez finally got to swing again in the seventh, and he hit a fly ball to center off reliever Koji Uehara. That was his last at-bat of the night. He received another lengthy round of treatment after the game, and when he finally met with reporters, vowed to be in the lineup on Wednesday.

“I will do anything I can to go out and play,” Martinez said.

Reality could intervene; Martinez is almost certain to wake up sore. But Martinez understands his value to the team, which is one reason he is so respected in Cleveland and Boston and now Detroit. He also understands that the opportunity before him is precious.

“Victor, as passionate as he is about the game, with his motivation and drive, he plays for this moment right here,” Tigers right fielder Andy Dirks said. “It’s what he has been playing for his entire career.”

And my, how the Tigers need him.

Leyland, in his pregame meeting with the FOX broadcasters, explained why Cabrera had been taking groundballs at third base the past three weeks.

If the Tigers reach the World Series, Leyland said, he would need Cabrera to play third and Martinez to play first in the NL park, where there will be no DH.

Martinez hits behind Cabrera in the Tigers’ lineup. Lose Martinez, Leyland said, and you effectively lose Cabrera; the opponent simply will pitch around him.

That’s the predicament the Tigers could face as soon as Wednesday in Game 4, but Martinez wants to play, just as Beltre wants to play for the Rangers.

It’s easy to forget sometimes.

For so many players, the game means so much.

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