Red Sox-Tigers: Miguel Cabrera and what could have been

October 20, 2013

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Boston Red Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers, 5-2, late Saturday night, which you likely already know by now, and advanced to their third World Series appearance since 2004. They will play the St. Louis Cardinals, with the first game slated for Wednesday night. As the Red Sox converged on closer Koji Uehara and on the field after the final out, some Tigers players sat in the dugout for a few minutes and others retreated to the clubhouse. The team with the best starting rotation in baseball, a powerful lineup and the planet’s best hitter had been vanquished. But it is hard not to wonder what could have been if that otherworldly hitter, Miguel Cabrera, he had been even half of his normal self.

Every team and player deals with injuries. But as Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said before Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, it “kind of breaks your heart” seeing Cabrera play so hurt. Prince Fielder’s disappearing act in the playoffs had a noticeable impact on the Tigers’ struggling lineup, but nothing compared to the missing production from Cabrera, the AL’s likely repeat MVP. More hitting from Cabrera may not have been able to cover up the horrific performance of the Tigers’ bullpen, but it certainly would have helped mask it, and possibly overcome it.

Cabrera, the three-time AL batting champion, was so worn down by injuries to his groin and abdominal areas, which first emerged in September, that he went only 6 for 22 with one home run in the ALCS. Sure, that’s a respectable .273 batting average and a .742 OPS. But this is Miguel Cabrera, a hitter capable of victimizing even top pitchers at their best. In the AL Division Series, he produced one important home run but hit only .250 (5 for 20).

Just watching Cabrera bat and run it was obvious he was in agony. Already a slow runner, he looked more handicapped and vulnerable in the series. At the plate, Red Sox pitchers did exactly as the Atheltics did: attack Cabrera away and force him to reach outside with an injured midsection. It worked.

Justin Verlander told reporters that “90 percent of players would have been sitting on the couch” with the injuries that Cabrera played through. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Cabrera’s agent talked to his client in the stands of Fenway Park four hours before the game to help him clear his head after seeing how glum the usually happy Cabrera was during the series.

After the loss, Cabrera was asked by reporters to gauge his health. Maybe 70 percent? 50 percent? Less? “I don’t know,” he said. Leyland and Cabrera’s teammates supported him and admired his drive to stay on the diamond, but it simply wasn’t enough to help keep the Tigers alive. They will eventually move on and watch the World Series from home, as the Red Sox face the Cardinals, and wonder what could have been if their superstar hitter was even a tad less injured and more like himself.

Related: Barry Svrluga captures Shane Victorino’s magical grand slam in the Red Sox’ 5-2 win. Thomas Boswell writes about the unlikely stars aligning for Boston. Also, from the Detroit Free-Press, Cabrera can finally rest.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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