Friday, June 27, 2008

Sheffield's Healthy Return Very Alluring

Gary Sheffield is healthy. Praise the Lord. And about 150 pitchers in the American League are squirming -- or should be.

I must admit, I never thought I'd see the day. I figured Sheffield -- who's battled a variety of shoulder and side injuries for about a year now -- would never be right. In fact, I openly speculated that he would retire, or be cut, before the 2008 season was over with. I wasn't alone. It wasn't anything personal; but Sheff couldn't stay healthy, and it was almost painful to watch him try to swing the bat with half a working body. He wasn't just a shell of his prior self; he was a child's drawing.

Here's what I wrote, sometime in May:

Sheffield, by the way, is done. I've said it before: I'll bet you three coneys that Sheff hangs 'em up before the season is over with. That'd be sad, as we only got to see the REAL Gary Sheffield for about half a season. But he's still hurt, isn't getting any better, and it's only out of deference to his great career that the Tigers haven't cut him loose by now.


He's menacing, once again

But something amazing has happened, for since Sheffield's latest return from the disabled list, he's been the Gary Sheffield of old. He's smacking lasers over the fence. He's getting clutch hits. He's having multiple hit games. He's helping the Tigers win. You know, just like old times.

For a while it looked like we were only going to get about half a season from Sheffield, after the Tigers acquired him from the Yankees in November 2006. He put the team on his shoulders last May and June, and when he hurt his shoulder diving for a ball in the outfield, he wasn't the same. Not even close. Nor was he the same this spring, or in April. Or in May. That's when the whispers began: Gary Sheffield is done. Actually, it was more than a whisper. It became a deafening roar at times. And I was one of those who joined in the hysteria.

But Sheffield is 6-for-13 since re-joining the team this week, with two clutch hits in two days: a game-winning single Wednesday night, and a ninth inning, game-tying homer on Thursday. The idea of a healthy Sheffield wreaking havoc is absolutely delicious.

Luckily for us, Sheffield didn't listen to the naysayers.

"I never had a doubt," he said, that he'd return to 100% health -- and that's what they're calling it. One hundred-freaking-percent.

He was so not a factor in April and May that his return to health now is almost like the Tigers have added a new bat via trade or waiver pick up. It's that significant.

Maybe there's hope for this year, after all. Gary Sheffield is hitting lasers again. Hallelujah.


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