October 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Miguel Cabrera's injuries take joy out of his game, and the punch out of the Tigers

'We gotta feel positive, we gotta feel ready to play,' Miguel Cabrera, right, said after Game 5. 'We've been here before, down 3-2. You never know what's gonna happen. We gotta think we can win (tonight). We gotta fight.' (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Detroit — When you can’t run, you can’t hide it.

When you can’t move, you’re defenseless.

When you can’t hit, you’re just not Miguel Cabrera.

All of which makes it hard for the reigning American League MVP, who is, in fact, Miguel Cabrera, to feel like himself. And nearly as difficult for the Tigers to be themselves now, though they’ll try, try again to pretend this weekend at Fenway Park, hoping to stave off two elimination games and advance to a second straight World Series.

Their aces are lined up, ready to go, with Max Scherzer pitching Saturday in Game 6, and Justin Verlander scheduled to start Game 7, if necessary. But after that, the Tigers are grasping at motivational straws, like the one Torii Hunter pulled late Thursday night after a 4-3 loss at Comerica Park.

“I definitely think the pressure’s on those guys, not on us,” Hunter said of the Red Sox, who’ve got two chances at home, where they owned the best record in the American League this season.

Hunter said virtually the same thing 10 days ago, when the Tigers were pushed to the brink by the Oakland A’s. And even though he was wrong, things worked out all right then.

And now?

“We gotta feel positive, we gotta feel ready to play,” Cabrera said after Game 5. “We’ve been here before, down 3-2. You never know what’s gonna happen. We gotta think we can win (tonight). We gotta fight.”

Depressing sight

Cabrera’s fighting all right, even though it looks like a losing battle with his body, injured in still-untold ways. Groin, hip, abdomen, you name it — it’s probably all hurting at this point.

Cabrera keeps saying he doesn’t want to talk about his health, and that’s understandable, especially considering he’s been asked to talk about it since mid-July. Talking about his injuries won’t make him feel any better — certainly not the way a stint on the disabled list might have earlier this summer — and offering up excuses won’t make the frustrated Tigers fans feel any better now, either.

“I gotta play with that,” Cabrera said, referring to whatever it is that’s ailing him. “I gotta go out there and play my best game. It’s no time to complain, it’s no time to feel sorry about how you’re feeling right now. You gotta go out there and play with your heart and that’s it.”

And that’s it, really. If the Tigers are going to win this series now, it’ll take more than hits. It’ll take a healthy dose of heart and determination, because Cabrera’s hardly the only one in the Tigers lineup who’s suffering, physically and mentally.

He’s just the biggest star, and the most obvious example, at least until Alex Avila got run over by a truck Thursday night in a home plate collision with Red Sox catcher David Ross.

Cabrera plays the game with such joy, it’s almost depressing to watch him, at times, in this postseason. He still talks a good game in the field, and in the dugout, and even in the clubhouse.

But, Cabrera has two extra-base hits — both homers — in 38 postseason at-bats this season, largely because he’s unable to get the leverage he needs to drive the ball into the gaps and over the fences. Even when he does hit it to the wall, he can’t make it to second base. In the field, he has gone from a below-average defender to a serious liability, as he showed again Thursday.

Immediately after he’d lost a game of Red Light/Green Light with third base coach Tom Brookens to end a scoring threat in the first inning of Game 5, and perhaps aggravated his injuries in the process, Cabrera made a costly error at third base in the top of the second.

He failed to charge a routine grounder, booted it on what he called a “bad hop” and effectively turned a one-run inning into an early 3-0 deficit.

“That’s baseball,” he said. “That’s part of the game.”

Still a threat

The part he excels at, though, the part where he’s peerless in prime condition, is the part that hurts all the more.

The Tigers had success hitting against Jon Lester, the Red Sox No. 1 starter, in Game 5, with seven hits and three walks in 513 innings. But they ran themselves out of a potential early run — or more — in the first inning. And they hit into three double plays in the middle innings, including a pair against Junichi Tazawa, who is normally a fly-ball pitcher.

“None bigger,” Red Sox manager John Farrell noted, than the one Cabrera hit into with runners at the corners and no outs in the seventh. Cabrera hit into five double plays his 50 previous playoff games, and his frustration with this one — foiled by a pair of four-seam fastballs — was obvious.

“He was able to make some pitches out of the strike zone, and he made some pitches when he needed to,” said Cabrera, who was kicking himself for uncharacteristically chasing pitches against Tazawa with runners at the corners in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s Game 3 loss as well.

“Well, I think everybody knows that he’s playing under some really, really tough conditions right now,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “And I think you see a little bit of that at the plate for him. It’s tough for him on certain pitches. … But he’s certainly not a guy that I’m going to move around or take out of the lineup. He’s a threat, particularly going to Boston with the Green Monster. He’s a threat to hit one.”

He hit one over the wall in left field in Game 2 off Clay Buchholz, who’ll start today’s game at Fenway. And he hit one in the clinching Game 5 in Oakland.

Cabrera said he’ll forget all that today, though, and focus on playing loose, no matter how much his body objects.

“We have to,” he said Thursday night. “Because when you put pressure, when you try to do something you’re not able to do, is when you make mistakes.”

The Tigers can’t afford many more.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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