What a difference a torn ACL makes.
There we were, just dragging ourselves through the dreary, tired and uneventful Detroit offseason, when the news of Victor Martinez’s blown knee hit the fan.
In an instant, all of the nagging weaknesses that had followed the Tigers throughout the 2011 season became trivial. Petty. Inconsequential. A fifth starter? We’ll make do. A second baseman? We’ll get by. A bat at third? Not important.
We’d just lost not only one of the best bats in the league, but also our Miguel Cabrera insurance plan. Sure, Victor had hurt the same knee during the regular season, but then – shazam! – he became a DH. Problem solved. Or, at least, one problem solved. But this? This would mean surgery. And an indefinite timetable. Out for the season? Probably.
And so, in that instant when all of the Tigers’ nagging weaknesses sounded like annoying background static from a radio we couldn’t find, the noise was suddenly amplified. A fifth starter? We’re sunk. A second baseman? Oh, man. A bat at third? Mercy.
And those World Series dreams …
To Tigers fans – and, I’m sure, of course, to Victor Martinez – the news was, in a word, unbearable.
A sad day in Detroit Tigers history.
Or, as I like it to call it, the perfect setup.
In the movie of the Tigers’ 2012 season – “One Torn Ligament” – we would start, of course, at the end of last season.
The 2011 playoffs. A high note, despite losing to Texas. With most of the same players returning for the next season, the team’s chances are looking pretty good.
Victor Martinez and his trick knee send the fans’ hopes and dreams into a tailspin. Seemingly, this is an injury from which no one will fully recover.
Enter Prince Fielder and his nice little contract to propel us into the second act.
Now what? We meet our new hero. Get to know the player and his family – create a personal story arc. And realize we already have a Cabrera.
Subplot 1: Cabrera moves to third base. Obstacles aplenty.
But wait! What about Brandon Inge?
Subplot 2: Inge tries his luck at second (and hopefully not our patience at the plate).
Subplot 3: See “cutting room floor.” We really only need two subplots.
Throughout Act II, our new hero makes new friends and hits a lot of home runs, while our old hero slowly rehabs his knee.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), a good film has a lot of drama going into Act III. So just when it looks like the Tigers will sail through the playoffs on the wings of Fielder, Cabrera and Justin Verlander, among others, something happens to interrupt their momentum.
Something bad. (Okay, it’s supposed to be something really bad here, but I just can’t bring myself to write that sort of thing. So.)
Something like a strained oblique for the DH in game five of the ALCS. Bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Runners at the corners. Score tied.
And now what?
If only we had someone who was good under pressure.
Someone who could hit with two outs.
Someone who could hit even better with two outs and runners in scoring position.
(Screeching record sound.)
Hold the phone!
We do have someone who’s good in these situations. Maybe the best, even.
Or, at least, we did.
He hasn’t played all season.
He’s been watching. Waiting. Cheering.
But he says he’s ready.
So Leyland nods.
And Victor Martinez steps up to the plate.
Something tells me this story is going to have more than one hero.
I can’t wait.