By Sean McAdam
DETROIT -- Pity the poor Detroit Tigers. They're trying to beat two opponents at once.
First, the Texas Rangers, whom they defeated 5-2 in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series Tuesday night thanks to three leadoff homers, nominally making the ALCS a series again -- "nominally" because as tough as the Rangers have been, the Tigers aren't faring well against their other opponent: Time.
The race is on to determine if the Tigers can win the pennant and get to the finish line before their entire team is decimated by injuries.
Problems started in Game 5 of the Division Series when Delmon Young had to come out of the game with a pulled oblique muscle. Thanks to that pull, Young wasn't on the original ALCS roster submitted by the Tigers.
Manager Jim Leyland noted that oblique pulls frequently take weeks to fully heal.
But that was before Magglio Ordonez broke his ankle in Game 1 of the Division Series. Then, all of a sudden, an oblique didn't seem that serious. Young was activated and in the lineup for Game 2, in left field.
He left that game, however, and hasn't been back on the field since.
Then came Game 3, when, even when the Tigers were winning, they were losing.
Former Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez opened the fourth by launching a missile into the right field seats, pulling the Tigers even at 1-1.
But almost immediately, it was obvious that something wasn't right. Martinez took forever to get himself around the bases, a pace made even more curious by the fact that Martinez might be the very last hitter in the big leagues to style a home-run trot.
It soon became obvious that Martinez wasn't just taking in the scene, but rather, had suffered a pulled right intercostal muscle with his home-run swing.
As he walked gingerly from the plate to the dugout, he slammed his helmet in frustration, then quickly disappeared up the tunnel to the clubhouse, followed in short order by the Tigers' trainer.
"He's OK," shrugged Jim Leyland of Martinez. "He felt a little strain, but he's all right."
In the Tigers clubhouse, Martinez himself wasn't so sure. He described the feeling as "a sharp pain . . . real uncomfortable."
"I'm pretty sore," said Martinez. "I got some treatment and was able to finish the game. We'll see how it feels Wednesday."
(Ever mindful of playing the game the right way, Martinez asked Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba to explain to Texas starter Colby Lewis that the ultra-slow home run trot was born out of necessity and not a chance to show up the opposition).
Asked if he could have played the field -- at first or behind the plate -- after the incident, Martinez allowed himself a smile: "I don't know, but it's a good thing I'm a DH."
Reminded of the litany of injuries that the Tigers already face with Young and Ordonez, Martinez interjected: "We don't need another one, believe me. We don't need anyone hurt. This kind of opportunity to get to the World Series doesn't get to you very often. I will do anything I can to go out there and play."
The Rangers did Martinez and the Tigers a favor in the next inning when Martinez came to the plate with two out and runners at the corners and, facing a guy who could barely lift a bat -- much less swing one -- promptly walked him on five pitches.
In the seventh, Martinez was able to put a decent swing on a pitch and flied to center.
Wednesday and Game 4? Who knows.
"As of right now, I'm playing tomorrow," said Martinez with determination.
"Ah, we're limping a little bit right now," said teammate Al Avila. "You want to be limping; you don't want to be completely on crutches."
Since the Tigers had to summon Young -- unsuccessfully, it would now seem -- to replace Ordonez, it seems likely they don't have a backup for Martinez, either.
"We're tough," concluded Leyland.
Not that, at the moment, they have a choice.