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Hurt or not, Cabrera plays on, in a 'mind-boggling' season

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

BOSTON -- There were times this year when Miguel Cabrera was so beat up that he couldn't take batting practice.

Then the game would start, and he'd hit the first pitch he saw for a home run.

There were two times this year when Cabrera was so beat up the Tigers seriously considered putting him on the disabled list.

Then, two or three or four days later, he'd get back in the lineup and go on another tear.

There's so much that is remarkable about what Cabrera has accomplished this year, as he makes a serious run at becoming the first player ever to follow one Triple Crown season with another one. But the most remarkable might be that he has stayed in the lineup enough to give himself a chance.

He doesn't always look like he can walk. And yet he keeps playing, and keeps hitting, so well that some Tigers people are convinced he's having a better year than he did when he won the Triple Crown (and the MVP) a year ago.

"It's totally amazing," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday. "It's mind-boggling, really."

It's mind-boggling that Cabrera just finished an August where he was tied (with Alfonso Soriano) for the most home runs and RBI in the majors, even though he wasn't close to being healthy all month. It's mind-boggling that despite a hip problem and more recently a groin issue, he avoided the DL, as he has done throughout his 11 seasons in the big leagues.

It's amazing that despite the injuries, Cabrera still has a chance to play in 150 games this season (he would need to play in 22 of the 23 games the Tigers have left). He's the only player in the majors who has played 150 or more games each of the last nine seasons, and for now, there's still a shot that he extends that streak to 10.

And a shot that he gets that second Triple Crown.

No Triple Crown winner has led in even two of the three categories the following season. Yet we're into the final month of the season, and Cabrera leads in two of the three (batting average and RBI). He trails Chris Davis of the Orioles by four in the home run race.

At times over the last few weeks, it seemed that Cabrera's injuries would take him out of the running. But except for a few games here and there, the injuries didn't even take him out of the lineup.

He was back in there Tuesday against the Red Sox, back after missing three games with the groin issue that became a problem last week. The groin strain affected his swing in a way that the hip problem hadn't, and the Tigers saw no choice but to sit Cabrera for a few days.

They were prepared to sit him again Tuesday, but he wanted to play and proved he was ready. Tigers people say that Cabrera's determination to play is so strong that he follows whatever the training staff asks him to do. He has also proven to the medical staff that he can play under control, convincing the trainers that he can play on without a big risk of making the injury more serious.

"He wants to be in the lineup," teammate Prince Fielder said. "It's one of those things where you've got to make up your mind that you're going to play, regardless."

Fielder knows. He has missed just one game since 2008 himself, and just 13 games in the eight seasons since he became a full-time big-league player.

So many teams have seasons derailed by injuries to key players, but Fielder and Cabrera play on, day after day, year after year. It's easy to forget how important that is.

Think of the Rockies, who have built their team around Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Both have missed significant time again this year, and neither one has played 150 games in a season since Tulowitzki did in 2009 (Gonzalez never has).

Meanwhile, Cabrera plays 150 games every year -- and Fielder plays more.

It's not simply good fortune. While the hip and now the groin have been obvious issues for Cabrera this season, Tigers people say that an ankle problem he went through last season may have been even more serious.

"He probably should have missed games," Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said.

Cabrera played all but one game last year.

"He's a freak," McClendon said. "He's overcome quite a bit. The one time when he didn't take BP and then he hit a home run in his first at-bat, Victor Martinez just looked at me and said, 'C'mon, is it this easy? It's supposed to be hard.'"

Cabrera went 0 for 4 Tuesday, and the Tigers lost 2-1 to the Red Sox. And yet, everyone watching the game (especially in the Red Sox dugout) was always conscious of when Cabrera's spot in the lineup was coming up next.

Everyone wants to see every one of his at-bats, because of that chance he'll do something special. Tigers players don't even want to miss seeing him take batting practice.

"I'm getting ready to say, 'Wow!'" Torii Hunter said, as he walked out to the field for BP Tuesday afternoon. "I've been with this guy since February, and I'm still saying 'Wow!' every day.

"He's my favorite to watch, by far."

We're all still saying, "Wow!" We're amazed by what Cabrera can do.

Some days, we're amazed that he can play at all.

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