Ailing Cabrera stays hot, homers in victory

August 31st, 2016

NEW YORK -- is convinced at this point that his left knee injury will linger for the rest of this season. The discomfort has been there, chewing up his patella tendon since Spring Training. It has come and gone since then, but Cabrera knows it never leaves for good.

So the Mets' shortstop is playing through his knee issue as well as he can, which on most days lately has been about as well as possible. Returning to the starting lineup on Tuesday after a two-day absence, Cabrera sparked the Mets' 7-4 win over the Marlins with a two-run homer in the first inning, reaching base safely three times on the night.

"You've got to trust them," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "If he says he can play, he can play. Today he came, he said he felt good, he wanted to play and we got him in there."

Don't mistake that to mean Cabrera is healthy. At times on Tuesday, he visibly limped, even displaying a bit of a hitch as he rounded the bases following his homer. On some days in September, he's liable to feel more pain than this. On other days, he'll feel less.

What matters at this point, with the Mets in the thick of the National League Wild Card race, is how Cabrera fares when he is able to play. He has gone above and beyond for the Mets in that sense, winning NL Player of the Week honors last week despite being out of the starting lineup on Sunday due to injury. Overall since returning from the disabled list with a patella tendon strain on Aug. 19, Cabrera is batting .447 with four homers, six runs scored and 11 RBIs in 11 games. He is slugging .868.

"It's not comfortable, but I want to be there for the team," Cabrera said. "I'm doing good at the plate right now, helping the team a little bit more. I want to do the best to be there."

Cabrera's ability to play through pain has been critical for a Mets team battling injury up and down its lineup. Though reinforcements will arrive once rosters expand on Thursday, the Mets know they'll struggle without at least some of their regulars playing regularly. Cabrera is one of them -- not to mention a critical piece up the middle with ailing. In a pennant race, they need his production more now than ever.

"When I'm on the field, I'm not thinking much about it," Cabrera said. "I know I've got to be smart about my knee, but I've just got to play my game."