Playing with pain is part of the game. That’s always understood in football. It’s rapidly becoming understood in these baseball playoffs.
Victor Martinez uttered a classic quote late Tuesday night after straining a side muscle while hitting a home run to help the Tigers beat the Rangers in Game 3. I asked if he was positive he could play in Game 4.
“The only way I don’t play is if I wake up and I’m dead,” Martinez said, my favorite statement of the playoffs so far.
But really, no one’s amused. Martinez looks truly pained, his latest ailment added to a sore knee and an injured toe. He already was hobbling. Now he’s hobbling and wobbling.
So is Delmon Young, who was going to try to play again with a strained muscle. So is the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, who fouled a pitch off his knee in Game 3 and is slowed. So is Alex Avila, who keeps catching and scuffling with a strained knee. I bet you’ll hear about a whole batch of surgeries (minor or otherwise) when the season is over.
Hey, no one is seeking — or receiving — a ton of sympathy. My only point is, usually the first trait celebrated in baseball isn’t toughness. It’s composure or dexterity or sunflower-seed-spitting.
This series is messing with those perceptions. Jim Leyland said Martinez is “one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around.” Martinez said he could barely make it around the bases to complete his fourth-inning home run. But it helps that he’s the DH, not playing in the field, so he got treatment, hit in the batting cages under the stands and stayed in the game.
I asked if he planned to take a pain-killing shot to keep playing.
“Like I told you,” he said, forcing a smile, “I’ll get some treatment.”
Pain and rain, that’s what we’re seeing in this ALCS. Nothing, it seems, can make it go away.