DETROIT -- Some time after belting out a peerless national anthem, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Motown, must have dedicated one of her signature songs to Victor Martinez. "I Say a Little Prayer" went a long way for Martinez who, a couple of hours after barely being able to complete a home run trot in Tuesday night's Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, pronounced himself fit for Wednesday afternoon's Game 4. "As of right now, I'm playing," Martinez said long after the Tigers' 5-2 victory over Texas, time he'd spent in the trainer's room getting more treatment for the intercostal muscle he'd strained in his right rib cage. "We'll see how it is tomorrow. But I got some treatment, and right now, I feel pretty good."
Hearing that made the Tigers feel more than pretty good, better than even the hard-fought breakthrough against the Rangers, who had won the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Arlington. "He's OK," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Martinez, with more than a hint of relief in his voice. "He felt a little strain, but he's all right." Two hours earlier, it appeared to be anything but little. As he leaned into the fourth-inning Colby Lewis pitch that would sail into the seats and tie the game at 1, Martinez felt "sharp pain." It also appeared to be more of the same: In Game 1, the Tigers lost Magglio Ordonez to a fractured right ankle. In Game 2, the Tigers again lost Delmon Young, who tried to cover for Ordonez but found out his left oblique strain wouldn't let him. Now Game 3, and another key player seemed to go down. "We've got to play through it," said second baseman Ramon Santiago. "We have to keep playing with what we have." Echoed Miguel Cabrera, "The last couple of years, we've had a lot of injuries here. We can't think about that because we can't control them. We know we just have to go out and play hard. We know how to handle them." If Martinez's postgame comportment was a reliable indicator, this injury is one they may not need to handle. As he made his way from the trainer's room across the clubhouse to his locker -- past the massage chair bearing the sign, "Helps relieve back pains and sore muscles." -- he didn't have a visible limp. Which was quite different from his home run "trot," then his tentative descent down the dugout steps, followed by an angry/frustrated toss of his batting helmet. "When I finished the swing, I really felt it. Man, the pain was really sharp. It was really hard to even run the bases," said Martinez, who was wincing as he slowly circled Lewis. He then apologized for it, through Texas catcher Yorvit Torrealba. Martinez asked Torrealba to tell Lewis, "I wasn't trying to do anything for the homer. Let him know I wasn't trying to show him up." Torrealba responded, "Don't worry about it." With head athletic trainer trainer Kevin Rand helping keep him loose between turns, Martinez played out the game, getting two more at-bats: He walked in the fifth on five pitches, without ever having to swing the bat, then hit a solid fly to center in the eighth. "I saw him hit a ball good to left-center, so I think he's fine," said Leyland, who at the time of the injury was "very concerned." Leyland will remain concerned until he sees Martinez in pregame batting practice, lashing line drives out of the batting cage. Intercostal muscle injuries have a way of turning into nighttime torture, feeling quite differently in the morning than they had at night. "He got through it tonight, and hopefully, he'll be able to get through it," Leyland said. "And if he can't ... you know what? We'll play somebody else. That's who we are. That's what we are, and that's what you do this time of year. You find a way to win somehow." "Kevin did some work in the trainer's room and I took some swings in the cages," Martinez said. "I was able to put some pretty decent swings on the ball, so I felt I was good enough to go to bat. "So I was able to finish the game. I'll get here tomorrow, get some treatment, keep moving and try to keep loose, and we'll see where we are." The Tigers are one win from tying up the ALCS -- and are already two players down. Young, who said his greatest discomfort comes from throwing, did not know whether he could return in Wednesday's game to face Texas lefty Matt Harrison. "We do not need another injury, believe me," Martinez said. "This kind of opportunity does not come to you very often. So I will do anything I can to go out there." It's all about another Aretha standard. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."