Detroit — As he rounded second, en route to his triple Tuesday night, you could see the difference.
A year ago, Brandon Inge would have wanted to try for a triple as he got near second base. The spirit would have been willing, but the knees would have been weak.
Not would have been, they flat out were.
But there he was, sliding headfirst into third in the eighth inning, pounding the dirt with his fist in celebration of being safe, of having pushed himself to take an extra base, but mostly of being able to push himself without pain.
Inge’s knees — both of which were operated on after last season — took a while to get to feeling 100 percent this year. For instance, they weren’t there at the start of the season.
But Inge isn’t sure they’ll be stopping at 100 percent. In fact, they might be feeling stronger than ever.
“There wasn’t a thought in my head other than getting to third base when that ball hit the gap,” he said. “Last year, I wouldn’t have even tried. I would have wanted to. I would have come around first base thinking, ‘C’mon, c’mon, let’s make it,’ but then I would have come to the realization that I couldn’t.”
Just about this time last year, it was becoming an ordeal for Inge just to get to first. But he never gave in to the pain. He kept playing.
“There aren’t many guys who would have played with what he played with,” manager Jim Leyland said. “The doctors even marveled how he got through it.”
“I didn’t want to panic anyone, but I was afraid they weren’t coming around,” Inge said. “Earlier in the year when the adrenaline hit me and I pushed it, I’d get instant feedback from my knees.
“Now when I push off, the only thought is the goal — of getting where I want to go. I’m just happy to see them truly coming around.
“I think I’m going to be stronger and better off.”
Anatomy of a play
Miguel Cabrera ‘s huge home run wasn’t the only thing he did right Tuesday night.
How about that throw to third for the first out of the sixth following Matt Wieters ‘ leadoff double?
“He’s a very instinctive player,” said Leyland, “one of the smartest players in the league.”
The credit for Inge being in excellent position to take the throw, however, goes to Carlos Guillen .
“I always think about things before they happen, but Guillen gave me a sign ahead of time that if the ball was hit hard to him, he was coming to third with it,” Inge said.
“That stuck a seed in my mind to bust it back over to the bag quick.”
So when the ball was hit hard to Cabrera, Inge wasn’t surprised that he also had it in his mind to throw to third.
“The most impressive improvement,” Inge said about Cabrera, “is how he’s come along defensively. Unbelievable.”
Around the horn
The Tigers signed their fifth, sixth and seventh-round picks from last month’s draft. In order, they are left-hander Alexander Burgos from State College of Florida, Manatee; catcher Bryan Holaday from Texas Christian University; and second baseman Corey Jones from Cal State Fullerton.
Holaday won the Johnny Bench Award last month as the best collegiate catcher. Other winners in the award’s 11 years include major-leaguers Buster Posey , Kurt Suzuki , Jeff Clement and Kelly Shoppach . Ryan Garko also won but no longer catches.