David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - If this were April, June or even August, there's a good chance Miguel Cabrera would be on the disabled list. But it's late October, which explains why he's not, and the Tigers wouldn't go into specifics about what was ailing the former Triple Crown winner heading into Saturday night's ALCS Game 6 at Fenway Park.
Only that Cabrera is suffering from some lower-body injury, affecting anywhere from his abdomen -- sports hernia? -- to groin to further down his legs.
The Tigers would argue that there is a strategic importance to keeping Cabrera's exact diagnosis under wraps, and it's not unusual for teams to be less than transparent about such things, especially with a World Series berth on the line.
That's not the same, however, as downplaying the impact on Cabrera, which Tigers manager Jim Leyland definitely did not do before the game. In talking about Cabrera's diminished status, Leyland made it sound as if he would be using a walker to get to the batter's box.
"He obviously has been playing this entire series, and quite a while now really, in quite a bit of discomfort," Leyland said. "It's a shame because it has handicapped him in some ways, obviously. But my hat goes off to him to what he's going through and going out there for us. He knows we need him in there and he's really risen to the occasion in every way possible, in my opinion."
The Dodgers, who were eliminated by the Cardinals, found themselves in a similar spot with Hanley Ramirez, who was diagnosed with a broken rib after Game 2 of the NLCS.
Manager Don Mattingly chose to stick with Ramirez, who clearly was in pain, and the hurting shortstop may have done more damage to his team by performing at well below his usual All-Star standard.
For Mattingly, it was an impossible spot. Sit one of his best players at such a critical time? That's a no-win situation for a manager. As long as a player of Ramirez's caliber is standing upright and gives a thumbs-up, the manager wants to believe he can contribute in some fashion.
The same holds true for Leyland, and when the player in question happens to be the planet's most lethal offensive force, there's not much internal debate involved.
Cabrera is coming off his third straight batting title -- the first Tiger with that hat trick since Ty Cobb in 1919 -- and Thursday's run-scoring single gave him 25 postseason RBIs with Detroit, a franchise record.
Cabrera is a career .274 hitter in the playoffs, and before Game 6, he was batting .263 (10-for-38) with two homers and seven RBIs in 10 games this postseason.
Whatever is actually bothering him, the Red Sox have no illusions that Cabrera is significantly less dangerous.
"Our respect for anybody in that lineup has not changed," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "When we've mislocated [a pitch], he's still driven the ball for extra-base hits or out of the ballpark. It's still going to come down to pitch execution and the consistency of that. Every time he steps in the box, he's got a chance to score."
On the basepaths, not so much. The hobbling Cabrera easily was cut down at the plate Thursday night when Tigers third-base coach Tom Brookens decided too late to put on the stop sign.
It was a foolhardy move, gambling with the health of Cabrera and sabotaging a rally in the process. Fortunately for Detroit, Cabrera survived that insane dash, but it's unclear how much that could have further slowed him for the rest of the series.
"You talk about somebody who is earning their money," Leyland said of his $152-million third baseman. "This guy feels like he owes it to the Detroit Tigers and our fans to be out there. He's doing the best he can.
"It breaks your heart as a manager. It's really a shame, to be honest with you, for the whole baseball world because they're not getting a chance to see him at his best. This time of year, people are turning on the TV, they love to see these guys."
A weakened Cabrera might not be as much fun to watch for the rest of America, but that's fine with Red Sox Nation. If that means one less obstacle to the World Series, all the better.