In the sixth inning of the Tigers’ 5-2, Game 3 victory over the Rangers in the ALCS last night, Josh Hamilton swung and missed and accidentally flung his bat into the stands behind the first base dugout. The lumber helicoptered into the first row and drilled one fan, wearing a Justin Verlander jersey, in the back of the head.
That’s how bad it’s getting for the walking-wounded Tigers — even their fans are taking lumps. The team, like the city from which it comes, is tough. The fan stayed in his seat and, in order to soothe the pain, pressed a cold beer to the spot Hamilton’s bat struck him.
“That’s hardcore Detroit,” Tigers outfielder Don Kelly said.
The Tigers, then, have represented their hometown well in the ALCS. Their roster is lined with players performing through injury, and the list grew by one last night. Designated hitter Victor Martinez blasted a homer in fourth inning, and before the ball sailed into the right field seats, Martinez winced and grabbed the right side of his lower back.
Martinez hobbled around the bases in more of a walk than a trot. After Martinez crossed the plate, he ambled back to the dugout. Martinez slapped a few hands, slammed his helmet to the ground and stomped down the tunnel to the clubhouse with a strained intercostal muscle.
Martinez didn’t know if he would return to the game. “You know what, it was really sharp,” he said. “It was very uncomfortable even to run. I told [Rangers catcher Yorvit] that I wasn’t doing anything to show up the pitcher.”
When Martinez retreated to the clubhouse, he received treatment from a Tigers’ trainer and took swings in the batting cage. When his spot in the lineup came up in the fifth inning, the on-deck circle remained barren for a moment as he chatted with Manager Jim Leyland. “If I can’t do, I can’t do it,” Martinez said. “I told him I could play.”
“Victor’s a tough player,” closer Jose Valverde said. “Victor’s insane.”
“I thought he would stay out there,” catcher Alex Avila said. “We’re kind of limping in this series right now. You need to find a way to get it done regardless. He’s been toughing out injuries all year, like the majority of us.
“Every team is dealing with that this time of year. Everybody has been at it since February. It’s part of the game. Regardless, you’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
And Game 4?
“The only way I’m not playing tomorrow,” Martinez said, “is if I wake up dead.”
He joined the Tigers’ infirmed. Left fielder Delmon Young could not start Tuesday after playing through an oblique injury Monday. Avila is squatting with a balky knee and entered Tuesday 2 for 25 in the postseason. Right fielder Magglio Ordonez is done for the season with a broken ankle. Before the playoffs began, outfielder Brennan Boesch suffered a thumb injury that knocked him out for the season.
Young could return for Game 4 Wednesday night – “I don’t know,” he snapped at a pack of reporters. The fact that it’s possible says a lot, since the Tigers at first removed him from the ALCS roster before Ordonez’s broken ankle.
The Tigers were the underdog to begin with in the series, but despite their spate of injuries they have hung with the Rangers. If they can squeeze out another win at home Wednesday, they’ll send Verlander to the mound Thursday with the series tied 2-2.
“I’m thrilled the way we’ve played,” Leyland said. “We’re tough.”
Leyland also gave special mention to Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who fouled a ball off his left knee in the fourth inning and stayed in the game, hobbling to and from his position each inning. Beltre underwent x-rays afterward, and the results were negative.
“I certainly want to credit mine first of all, but both teams are showing what it’s all about, and showing it’s playoff time and how tough they are,” Leyland said. “You have great appreciation for that as a manager.”