Boston — It's painful for Miguel Cabrera to play, and has been for nearly three months. In this series, it's especially painful to watch.
On the big stage, the game's best hitter can't do what he does. And it's too bad, because if he had his power, the Tigers might not be scuffling for runs, and Prince Fielder might not be under such scrutiny. It's too bad that fans are seeing barely half of what Cabrera can do, his abdominal and groin injuries sapping his leg strength.
Jim Leyland called it "a shame," and in a way, he's right. The Red Sox probably don't mind Cabrera's troubles, but for the Tigers, and probably for casual baseball fans, seeing the cracked shell of a superstar doesn’t seem right.
Cabrera is fighting through it, not complaining, not even wanting to discuss his injuries. "It's no time to feel sorry about how you're feeling," he says, and there's far less playfulness in his manner these days. I'm sure when the season ends, the Tigers will hotly debate how they handled Cabrera, and whether a stint on the disabled list would've helped. But the truth is, they needed him during a spirited division race, and they really need him now.
"It kind of breaks your heart, to be honest with you, to see him out there the way he's hurting," Leyland said before Game 6 on Saturday night. "He's tough as nails. I have so much respect for him. Everybody is conscientious these days about people earning their money. You talk about somebody who is earning their money — this guy feels like he owes it to the Detroit Tigers and our fans to be out there.
"We're not trying to hide anything. I think that's pretty obvious to the naked eye when you watch him. But he's out there, and we're glad he's out there."
Cabrera doesn’t feel like himself, and at times doesn't look like himself. He has lunged at bad pitches, something he rarely does. But he is contributing, hitting .263 with two home runs and seven RBIs. Yes, even hobbled, Cabrera leads the Tigers in the postseason in home runs and RBIs. Against the Red Sox, he was 5-for-18 heading into Game 6.
In a pitching-rich postseason, Cabrera's numbers are fine for a normal hitter. For a guy who has won three straight AL batting titles, an MVP and a Triple Crown, the menace is absent.
"It's really a shame for the whole baseball world because they're not getting a chance to see him at his best," Leyland said. "This time of year, people are turning on the TV, they love to see these guys. Obviously, I think he's the best player in the league. To not be able to see him at his best because of a physical ailment, it hurts a little bit. But that's just the way it is."
There are no excuses this time of year, and Cabrera isn't making any. But his injuries have been evident on several key plays, including the out at home plate in Game 5. Third-base coach Tom Brookens first waved him in, figuring a two-out hit should score a guy from second. And I bet Cabrera's pride told him the same thing, and perhaps that's why he ran through Brookens' subsequent stop sign.
Like I said, Cabrera isn't asking for sympathy, and the Red Sox aren't offering any.
"We've got guys that are banged up as well," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "When we've mis-located (a pitch), he's still driven the ball for extra-base hits around the ballpark. Every time (Cabrera) steps in the box, he's got a chance to change the score."
That chance has diminished for Cabrera, but the respect hasn't. Even hurting, he helps more than he hurts.