Patrick Reusse: ALCS also a reminder of failures

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 16, 2011 - 12:13 AM

Players ignored injuries in the playoffs, far different from the local nine's behavior.

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Delmon Young has had a great postseason, and he has played despite an injured oblique in the ALCS for the Tigers. In spring training with the Twins, he skipped out on playing because of a sore toe.

Photo: Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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The teams competing for the American League pennant were admirable in every way during baseball's postseason tournament.

The Texas Rangers opened with a 9-0 loss at home to streaking Tampa Bay, then advanced through the first round with three victories that came by a total of four runs.

The Detroit Tigers were pounded 10-1 by the slugging New York Yankees to send that opening series back to the Bronx, then held on through long and increasingly tense innings for a 3-2 victory in Game 5.

The resiliency and professionalism had been maintained by both teams in the ALCS, which ended with the Rangers' victory in Game 6 on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.

Hardball fans watched as Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde laid it on the line game-by-game for the Tigers, until manager Jim Leyland was forced to announce that his two prime relievers could not be used in Thursday night's possible elimination game.

So Justin Verlander, with nothing resembling his best pitches, hung on to throw 133 and work 7 1/3 innings. And a fired-up Phil Coke, preferably used to get out lefties, came in to get the last five outs and keep alive the Tigers.

Through all of this gutsy pitching, the spirit of the 2011 Tigers was as clear with the lineup.

Victor Martinez has been so hobbled you can't tell which leg he's limping on and he's still in the middle of the order. Ironman catcher Alex Avila keeps going no matter how many wicked foul balls find a piece of him.

And Delmon Young -- yes, that same Delmon -- played through a pulled muscle in his side and drilled two home runs to lead the Tigers to the Game 5 victory.

There's also Miguel Cabrera, the first baseman who was the source of such ridicule for a drunken binge before the last weekend of the 2009 season. Now, he's diving to make plays and terrifying opponents every time they see him step into the box.

Which is all the time: Cabrera led the American League with 161 games played in 2011, and has missed a total of 30 games in his eight full seasons in the big leagues.

There's Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre viciously fouling balls off body parts, yet still present as a most dangerous hitter and magnificent fielder, and Josh Hamilton serving doubles into the outfield gaps while playing with a groin injury.

There was also an old warrior, Mike Napoli, a catcher not known for his throwing, gunning down the Tigers' swift Austin Jackson at a key moment.

A mention of Nelson Cruz is required. The outfielder had his usual battle with hamstring injuries this season, including down the stretch. In the playoffs, he has been turning around fastballs -- including Verlander's clocked at 100 miles per hour -- and making desperate dives at extra-base hits in right field.

This has been great stuff for baseball fanatics, and at the same time it has served to further agitate anyone who was stuck in Minnesota this summer watching the Twins.

Young hitting five home runs in 30 postseason at-bats has caused many barbs to be aimed at Bill Smith, the Twins general manager, for making the waiver deal in August that sent Delmon to Detroit.

From here, the decision to give up on Young isn't as much an indictment of the front office's judgment as it is the attitude that existed in the Twins clubhouse in 2011.

Delmon appeared to be engaged fully with his teammates from the moment he arrived in Detroit, and this month he has been one of the guys -- providing power while playing hurt.

He was one of the guys for the Twins this spring, too. When Justin Morneau (concussion), Joe Mauer (general soreness) and Michael Cuddyer (plantar wart surgery) weren't playing, Young decided his sore toe wasn't going to allow him to play in those early exhibitions, either.

It started right there, in Fort Myers -- longer-than-reasonable absences during the exhibition schedule, leading to a season where more players found a way out of the lineup than found a way to help buoy a sinking ship.

The 2011 Twins had the highest payroll in franchise history ($118 million distributed) and the second worst full-season record (63-99).

They were disgusting then, and it's even more disgusting now as you watch the hard-edged, no-excuse approach of the Rangers and the Tigers, including Delmon Young.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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