09/30/09 1:09 AM ET
Inge shutting out pain for pennant race
Tigers third baseman not letting knee keep him off field
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
When Inge walked into the Tigers' clubhouse at Comerica Park on Tuesday morning for their day-night doubleheader against the Twins, he saw his picture on the whiteboard in the middle of the room. It was a collector's card of Inge throwing that ran in that morning's paper. On the other end of the board was a picture of Miguel Cabrera diving for a ball at first base.
In between was an arrow drawn from Inge's picture to Cabrera's picture, with the message "Brandon Inge throws to first base."
Inge smiled, picked up the marker and wrote his own message under Cabrera's picture: "Thus, the reason Inge has 100 errors!"
Inge looked at it and admired, then shared a laugh with Cabrera.
"If you want to play that game, that's fair," Inge said.
Realistically, the reason for Inge's errors in the field is in his left knee. In past years, the former college closer turned strong-armed catcher would never leave a throw short. If anything, he was more likely to sail a throw over first base or wide. Now, every throw Inge attempts brings the risk of a hop in the dirt, even the ones when he has a chance to set his feet.
He doesn't have to say it to confirm that it hurts. Everybody knows.
It was in the look he had when he grabbed his left knee after hopping back off the plate from a pitch over the weekend at Chicago. It's in the adjustments he keeps making at the plate to find a position of strength where his knee won't hamper him, bringing him further and further away from the swing that helped earn him an All-Star selection earlier in the year. It's in his reactions on balls hit down the line that used to set up his highlight plays but now force him to push off his bad knee.
He's still playing because of plays like last Thursday at Cleveland, where his diving catch on Jhonny Peralta's liner in the hole arguably saved a win for the Tigers. He sticks it out for hits like Tuesday's two-run single that built a five-run Tigers lead en route to a 6-5 victory over the Twins in a must-win nightcap to a day-night doubleheader.
Inge had four hits Tuesday, raising his average four points to .232 on the year. Just as important, his defensive alertness helped the Tigers pull off an inning-ending double play on Nick Punto's ninth-inning squeeze bunt attempt when he outran Alexi Casilla back to third base to take the throw from pitcher Brandon Lyon.
"Everyone knows about it," Curtis Granderson said of the knee, "but I don't think anybody thinks about it at this point. The fact that he's still able to put himself in the lineup every day, I think everyone figures if it was that bad, he'd take himself out. He's able to fight his way through it, both offensively and defensively, running the bases, too."
Truth is, every movement bothers Inge to some degree. He has more trouble moving toward the third-base line on defense than he does going toward the hole, but he feels it regardless.
Tigers medical officials have categorized the problem as microfractures in the patella tendons in both of his knees, but particularly the left. There's no telling if playing through it has made it any worse, but it isn't expected to lead to any injury more severe.
He said in July that he wouldn't go on the disabled list for it unless the medical staff found a way to fix the problem with just a minimum 15-day stay. Surgery would cost him longer than that, so that isn't an option.
"It's amazing. If I could get this little area right here," Inge said, pointing to a specific part of his knee, "if I could get that taken away, I'd feel like I was 16 again. No question about it."
He has tried all sorts of therapies while remaining in the lineup, including something called prolotherapy that adds an injection of glucose solution into the knee to promote healing. Nothing so far has helped much.
Still, he plays. In fact, he still leads the team in games started, Tuesday being his 150th and 151st starts at third base. He isn't coming out now, not with all this on the line. And as long as he's productive in the field, the Tigers won't dare take him out. They'll need his defense in the postseason, especially against a Yankees offense that can string together big innings, and his penchant for key hits is critical.
"To be honest with you, this is the stuff you play for," Inge said. "This is the stuff that you practice all offseason, you miss time with your family. This is what you play for, a ticket to the postseason."
He hasn't had any consultation on surgery, but he figures it's a possibility this offseason. It's possible he could need it on both knees. But that's for him to worry about later.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.