Cinematic amusements stole my attention from the Detroit Tigers last night after they found themselves losing by five runs. But even during the height of heists, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt timelessly terrorizing America’s Playground, Miguel Cabrera forced me to hit pause. Cabrera brought me back to Detroit—to Comerica Park.
Playing through the pain of a sore left hip flexor, Miguel Cabrera has only improved his performance over the past month. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
I had checked my phone for an update on the game, and I knew. His team down three, with two outs and two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth, Cabrera would bat. At this point, could he do anything but hit an unbelievably dramatic home run? I had to watch. But this time, though it seemed he might never fail again, he struck out swinging.
So he failed. He can’t do it every night. What’s my point? He had me expecting it. Baseball, especially on offence, is a game based in failure. Even the best hitters fail about 70 percent of the time. But Miguel Cabrera has us expecting success. And we don’t just expect a base hit. Fans like me actually believe, when he bats, that he’ll experience the ultimate success. I just knew this man was going to rescue his team with an unlikely, game-tying home run.
But he didn’t! Of course, that reminded me of something else. Or, media members reminded me during the nightly postgame commotion. Cabrera has built these expectations for himself while battling a painful, nagging injury. Consider that, when a batter swings, he violently rotates his hips at a maximum rate of around 714 degrees per second. Further, note that said hip rotation creates the torque needed to generate bat speed and, therefore, power. Cabrera has now battled a sore left hip flexor for about a month.
Cabrera sat out four games starting July 23rd and another three the following week. But he has insisted on being in the lineup otherwise, despite his continued suffering. Since the original setback, playing through pain, he is batting .360 with a whopping nine home runs in 20 games. Those numbers are pretty amazing, but numbers can be dull. Do you remember the dramatic two home runs he hit in one weekend series against Mariano Rivera at Yankee Stadium? How about the walk-off shot he hit on the first pitch of the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals? Since his hip started bothering him on July 22nd, I count five games the Tigers won that they probably would not have without Miguel Cabrera.
This guy is amazing. It wouldn’t take his last few weeks of playing through injury to convince someone of that. But what he has done in spite of his condition is mind-blowing. And that’s with me grossly simplifying his health situation, which really also involves a strained lower abdomen and a banged-up left leg. We’re looking at a dead man walking—and hitting home runs, and legging out doubles, and even playing third base.
Jim Leyland told reporters after last night’s game that Cabrera was in pain taking his final, unsuccessful swings. It’s unclear if this is indicative of a new injury, or an aggravation of an old one. Who knows if it’s a good idea for the Tigers to keep letting him play hurt? But right now, as more physical obstacles appear, this man seems unstoppable.