Henning: Upton’s home runs are nothing if not majestic

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers' Justin Upton hits a pop up single in the first inning.

Notes, thoughts, items as the Tigers and Indians pray they can beat the rain and complete a series that will have a thing or two to say about next week’s playoffs:

Justin Upton’s home runs are like watching a Cape Canaveral launch.

He doesn’t hit cheapies. Nothing that soars and falls, like lots of homers, just past the fence and an outfielder’s leap and reach.

The Tigers left-fielder swats space shots. Not only long-distance blasts of 410 or 420 feet or more, but he so often hits them into the heavens if they’re not otherwise lined like seat-smashing lasers.

He hit one of those Upton-grade Mount Everest ascents in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Indians. You looked into the left-field seats after it had exploded from his bat and found yourself waiting, waiting, for the ball to descend.

Upton knew it was no ordinary flight path, even for one of his missiles.

“Must have gotten some reverse spin on it,” he said afterward.

So, as home runs and sight-seeing adventures go, an Upton at-bat is serious entertainment.

He dressed for Wednesday night’s game against the Indians after assembling these numbers for September: 23 games, .293 batting average, .383 on-base percentage, .744 slugging, good for a scalding OPS of 1.127.

He is hitting a home run about every other game since he revived in late August. He is walking every other game, something he did in his earlier big league life that contributed to a pre-Detroit on-base percentage of .352.

He turned 29 last month, which is the same number as the home runs he had racked up ahead of Wednesday’s game.

You might remember Upton had a miserable first four months in Detroit. You might also know Upton has done with that period of time what you did with last night’s bad dream. Accepted it, forgot about it, all while moving on to a happier life.

James McCann is headed for a solid 2017.

McCann has been playing in 2016 with a sore ankle. It isn’t as bad as it was in the spring. It’s not as bad as it was in early summer. But it hurts, more than he allows, and it has had an effect in ways that can’t be measured.

Tigers' McCann deals with playing in pain

It is not an excuse for batting .221. Rather, there can be a lesson here for any player — and for a team — in bringing back players too soon in their recovery.

McCann sprained his ankle April 11 and didn’t play again until the first week of May. After three weeks he was itching to play. He had healed sufficiently — in his mind — to catch nine innings. Doctors could offer a clinical OK even if their counsel in these situations is that the more rest the better for anyone coming off a sprained ankle.

McCann came back too quickly. He knows it. The team knows it. The ankle had to be heavily taped until mid-summer. It still bothers him, although getting him to make any admission here is rough, given that athletes don’t care to acknowledge the pain they often carry into a typical big league game.

This is analogous to Victor Martinez in 2015 returning too energetically from knee surgery. It was a brutal mistake. Yes, everyone wants their players in the lineup, beginning with the player. Doctors can sign off, but pain thresholds determine much in any player’s return to the field.

Tigers playoff scenarios with five days to go

So players clench their teeth and say they’re ready. And sometimes they’re not.

McCann will heal completely during the offseason. He will arrive for spring camp at Lakeland, Fla., in February. And unless he gets hurt again, you’ll see a better player in 2017, much better, with his bat a good bet to develop when two strong ankles allow a solid base for his swing.

Miguel Cabrera gets it in the chops — again.

First inning of Wednesday’s game against the Indians. Tigers down, 1-0. Miguel Cabrera takes an outside 97-mph fastball from Zach McAllister and hits a Cabrera special — on a long-distance line to Comerica Park’s ridiculously deep right-center-field area code.

The ball smashes into the wall a foot or so shy of a home run. Cabrera, who wasn’t sprinting and who figured the ball was gone, hit fifth gear and tried to get his double. He was out at second.

Some immediately jumped on Cabrera for “not hustling.” But the point, as always, was missed. Accountability was suppressed.

The ballpark is absurd. Cabrera’s blast was a tremendous piece of power-hitting. The ball he hit is a home run anywhere else.

But not at Comerica Park, which crazily, perversely, was designed to punish hitters, and that was the word designers made public when the contours were announced: punish.

Time to blow up deep left-center to deep right-center and make that joke of an outfield a ballpark rather than a funhouse mirror.