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Gritty Tigers alive and limping


DETROIT -- Just the other day, Jim Leyland asked us not to feel sorry for the Tigers.

Fine, but is it all right to marvel at them?

And now that they're back in this American League Championship Series, after a 5-2 victory in Game 3 against the Rangers on Tuesday night, is it now fair to ask if they can stay healthy enough to win it?

"Aw, we're limping a little right now," said Alex Avila, the catcher who won't say exactly how much his knee is bothering him. "That's all right. You don't want to be completely out. You don't want to be on crutches."

And even then ...

"The only way I don't play [Wednesday] is if I wake up and I'm dead," designated hitter Victor Martinez said.

ALCS: Rangers at Tigers
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All right then. There you have it, the new motto for a Tigers team that is having so much trouble staying healthy, but less trouble staying alive.

They're alive in this series now, down two games to one but definitely not done. By late Wednesday night, they were even predicting that both Martinez (strained intercostal) and Delmon Young (strained oblique) could be back in the middle of their batting order Wednesday for Game 4.

Martinez hurt himself while hitting a game-tying home run in the fourth inning Tuesday, yet recovered enough to come to the plate an inning later and stay in the game to the end. Young has missed two of the first three games of the ALCS with a strained oblique, but he might play Wednesday, as well.

There's more good news for the Tigers, too, because Miguel Cabrera's bat, hurting a little itself the previous few days, looked much healthier when he doubled in the go-ahead run, then hit a towering home run in the seventh.

"When Miggy hits like that, we've got a good chance," second baseman Ramon Santiago said.

It's fair to ask why Cabrera was given a chance to hit like that Tuesday. When he came to the plate with runners at first and third and two outs in the fifth inning of a tie game, there was only an injured Martinez stepping into the on-deck circle behind him.

If the Rangers didn't intentionally walk Cabrera, they certainly didn't want to throw him pitches good enough to hit. And yet Colby Lewis did just that.

"We tried to make a pitch," manager Ron Washington tried to explain. "Colby didn't get it there. Cabrera caught it."

Washington later said the pitches were supposed to be out of the zone. The pitch that turned into Cabrera's double was out of the zone, but not far enough out.

Victor Martinez winces while struggling to circle the bases after his home run. (AP)  
Victor Martinez winces while struggling to circle the bases after his home run. (AP)  
You would think the Rangers will be even more careful with Cabrera the rest of the way, which makes it even more important for the Tigers to have their big hitters around him. Already, they're missing Brennan Boesch (thumb) and Magglio Ordonez (broken leg), who combined to bat third 107 times in 162 games this year.

They can't well do without Young, who batted third 40 other times, and Martinez, who regularly bats behind Cabrera.

"I want [Martinez] in the lineup," Cabrera said.

He saw Martinez stay in the lineup Tuesday, even though he hurt his side so bad he basically walked around the bases after his home run. Martinez apologized to Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba, telling him the home run trot only took so long because it was painful to go any faster.

And he stayed in the game.

"It means the guy wants to win," Cabrera said. "That shows he can play hurt. It shows he has a big heart."

He's not the only one, and it wasn't limited to the Tigers.

As hard as it was to believe Martinez played the whole game, it was just as difficult to believe Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre did. Beltre fouled a ball off his left knee in the fourth inning, and from that point on he seemed to have trouble even walking.

And he played.

"Two pretty tough teams are going at each other," Avila said.

It's a real series now, one that's as compelling as it is competitive. On Tuesday, the Tigers became the first team to beat Lewis in a postseason game (in six career starts), and the Tigers' Doug Fister proved again he was perhaps the most important player any team traded for in July.

Fister and Lewis would be the starters again if this series goes to a Game 7, a prospect that now seems entirely possible.

By that time, who knows what feats of toughness we'll see from these teams?

One thing we do know: They'll be out there, as long as they wake up and they're not dead.

After Game 3, the Tigers are very much alive.


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