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Tiger Time

"Buen trabajo, mi amigo," Ozzie Guillen might have texted to fellow countryman Miguel Cabrera after Saturday's 5-1 pasting of the White Sox as the lame Cabrera had three hits and drove in a couple of runs. "Two bad ankles, but, hey, it's a big series. You showed 'em, kid."

When Ozzie was guiding the Sox, he made no secret of his friendship and admiration for the Tigers' MVP candidate. I never quite understood that. After all, since he joined the Tigers in 2008, the Sox have had little luck getting Cabrera out. He absolutely slays our team.

To think our (former) manager was pals with the guy rubbed me the wrong way. I much preferred his relationship with another Venezuelan, Magglio Ordonez, who played for Detroit after his days with the Sox. Ozzie once called him "a piece of shit."

Of course, we're talking history, and Guillen has his own of problems in Miami, while Cabrera continues to torment the Sox.

But there was reason for optimism over the weekend. Cabrera was limping around on not one, but two sore ankles. Furthermore, manager Jim Leyland put the guy at third base, opting to use a healthy Delmon Young as DH on Friday. Cabrera played every inning there over the three-game series.

The only explanation I could imagine was that Cabrera's 240 pounds were needed to balance the infield with Prince Fielder at the other corner. Put someone like Omar Infante at third, and the left side of the infield at Comerica might rise a foot or two. You have to think about these things.

Would it have been unsporting for the Sox to bunt down the third-base line, testing the gimpy Cabrera by making him move around? Of course not, but our athletes were rather kind to the Tiger star. He made a couple of errors in Friday's 7-4 Tiger victory, but the Sox were reluctant to bunt toward him in the three losses. Too bad because the guy clearly couldn't move.

However, at the plate, no problem for the big man. On Friday his two-run homer, his 33rd, off Jake Peavy after a walk to Andy Dirks - more about that later - got the Tigers on the board in the first inning and then three hits and a couple of RBIs followed on Saturday.

I remember Juan Gonzalez, a 17-year major leaguer (1989-2005) who made something like $87 million for his career. The guy hit 434 home runs and twice was the MVP while playing for Texas. But he wouldn't play hurt. We're not talking about torn rotator cuffs or even strained obliques or hammies. If he wasn't feeling well, Juan would sit.

I thought about Gonzalez and other high-salaried stars as I watched Cabrera grimace through the weekend. Cabrera doubled to lead off the fifth in Friday's game, and Fielder followed with a deep fly to Dewayne Wise in center field. Knowing that Cabrera was hobbled, Wise soft-tossed the throw back to the infield. Meanwhile, the crafty Cabrera, realizing that Wise had underestimated him, tagged up and easily advanced to third.

Think for a moment what kind of effect that had on his teammates. Cabrera easily could have sat out the weekend series, and no one would have questioned his desire and commitment to a team in the thick of a pennant race. Knowing that the team's star player was limping around in obvious pain and still helping the ballclub sent a message to his teammates.

"You can tell he's not as agile as he was earlier on," Tiger center fielder Austin Jackson told reporters. "At the same time, I'm thinking he's doing the things necessary so he can get out there and play with it."

Leyland echoed Jackson, saying, Cabrera gives "a great effort every single day, every day for however many years he's been here."

Sox pitching gave the Tigers - and the Orioles earlier in the week - lots of help because they couldn't find the strike zone. During this nightmare of a 1-6 road trip, Sox pitchers issued 31 bases on balls and hit another two batters. Eight scored.

Chris Sale pitched ten innings on the trip and walked seven hitters. Francisco Liriano, who struggles as much as Carlos Marmol with his control, walked seven - you read that correctly - in Saturday's loss. Meanwhile, Peavy hit Fielder with a pitch on Friday to load the bases ahead of Delmon Young unloading them with a long double.

(Talking about Young, his homer that beat the Sox last night came on a pitch just inches off the ground. You couldn't blame Sale for being livid. Young would have had a better chance with a 9-iron, yet he launched a line drive into the bullpen. How'd he do that?)

As weird as it sounds, the only effective starting pitcher was Dylan Axelrod, who beat the Orioles 8-1. Gavin Floyd's sore elbow was the only reason Axelrod got the nod. I'm thinking Floyd should remain right where he is - on the DL.

This being political season in America, let's put some spin on what looks like the unraveling of our athletes.

In the ninth inning last night, Orlando Hudson sent a screamer to center field with two on and two out. Jackson barely ran it down, so the Sox were only a few feet from tying the game as Jordan Danks easily would have scored from first.

Both the Sox and Detroit have 29 games remaining. But the Sox get 17 of those at home where they have a 38-26 record. Meanwhile, the Tigers play 16 on the road where they are 30-35. (At home Detroit is a whopping 42-26.)

And let's not forget that the two teams split their first eight games this season. Okay, so the Motown fellas have beaten our guys six in a row. But all those were at Comerica, and the White Sox will have a chance to turn the tables next week when the Tigers invade the Cell for four games.

The biggest problem is that the Tigers look so far superior to the South Siders. Is it possible that either Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander will lose another game this season?

Put guys on base in front of Cabrera, Fielder, and Young, and they're going to score more often than not.

The Miguel Cabrera look-alike, Avisail Garcia - yet another Venezuelan - was promoted from Double-A on Saturday, and the kid looks imposing and talented.

Closer Jose Valverde keeps Tiger fans on edge, but he's piling up saves about as often as those same fans do The Wave at Comerica.

ESPN commentators John Kruk, Dan Shulman, and Terry Francona, working the national game on Sunday night, spent three hours extolling the virtues of the Detroit ballclub. I was waiting for a rebuttal from the Hawk.

Yet they failed to mention how Cabrera & Company dropped three straight in Kansas City just prior to silencing the White Sox.

The lone certainty seems to be that the Sox will need to beat Detroit to get to the postseason. Oakland and Baltimore - or the Yankees if the Orioles somehow slide past New York - are in the driver's seat for the wild cards, while Tampa Bay and the Angels are in pursuit. Whoever finishes second in the Central Division will be going home.

Just a week ago, the White Sox were on a roll, having swept the Yankees and Mariners at home. Streaks have characterized this team since Opening Day. Whether the Sox are able to string together yet another winning week or two, or better yet three, is the big question. I'm not the only one who is dubious. But then I've been wrong before.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox beat. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Nov 26, 2021