DETROIT - Victor Martinez slowed his home run trot to barely a jog, stepping gingerly around the bases after hurting himself with a big swing.
The banged-up Detroit Tigers are teetering but still standing, thanks to Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and another pivotal performance on the mound by Doug Fister.
"You know what? This is us," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "We are what we are. We've been doing this for the whole year, and we're going to either win this thing or go down with what we got."
Fister again delivered a strong start in a game Detroit needed and Cabrera homered and had a tiebreaking double to lead the Tigers past the Texas Rangers 5-2 Tuesday night in Game 3 of the AL championship series.
Martinez homered in the fourth to tie the score at 1, hurting his ribcage in the process. He stayed in the game and has every intention of being in the lineup Wednesday when Detroit will try to even the series.
"The only way I'm not playing is if I wake up dead," he said.
Detroit dropped the first two games in Texas before turning to Fister, who won the decisive fifth game of the division series at Yankee Stadium last week. He was sharp again, allowing two runs and seven hits with no walks in 7 1-3 innings.
CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler says the Tigers may be having trouble staying healthy but they are having less trouble staying alive.
"It's a real series now, one that's as compelling as it is competitive," Knobler writes. "On Tuesday, the Tigers became the first team to beat Lewis in a postseason game (in six career starts), and the Tigers' Doug Fister proved again he was perhaps the most important player any team traded for in July."
Jose Valverde, after tossing a season-high two innings the day before, worked around a leadoff double in the ninth for his third playoff save. He got some help from Cabrera, who made a diving play at first base.
Matt Harrison starts Game 4 for Texas against Rick Porcello both went 14-9 this season.
"It's going to be a long series," Cabrera said. "Nobody (said) it's going to be easy. You've got to be patient."
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre fouled a ball off his left knee in the fourth and hobbled the rest of the night. X-rays were negative and he has a bruise.
Cabrera's double in the fifth put the Tigers ahead 2-1 and he added a towering solo homer in the seventh.
Jhonny Peralta also went deep for the Tigers and Austin Jackson broke out of his postseason slump with three hits, including an RBI single.
Texas right-hander Colby Lewis, who entered 4-0 in five postseason starts, allowed four runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings. He struck out six and walked two.
"He throws strikes and every now and then he's going to give up some long balls. I thought it was a pretty good ballgame," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He kept us in the ballgame. It was Fister that did the job out there tonight."
Stung by Nelson Cruz's game-ending grand slam Monday, the Tigers returned home hoping to shake out of their offensive funk. They fell behind 1-0 when Fister allowed three consecutive singles to start the game, but the 6-foot-8 right-hander held the Rangers in check after that, even striking out Cruz for the third out of the seventh as the towel-waving crowd at Comerica Park roared its approval.
After leaving 22 runners on base in the first two games, the Tigers struggled early on against Lewis. Detroit had two on with one out in the second, but Alex Avila and Ryan Raburn both struck out.
Lewis struck out five in the first three innings, but Martinez led off the fourth with a homer to right.
Martinez, who hit .330 this season despite groin, knee and back problems, labored slowly around the bases after the ball cleared the wall. When he returned to the dugout, his head still down, he slammed his helmet down as he descended the steps toward the clubhouse.
Detroit was already playing without injured outfielders Delmon Young, Magglio Ordonez and Brennan Boesch, and it wasn't clear whether Martinez the designated hitter would be able to continue. But he was back in the fifth, standing near the on-deck circle with Cabrera at the plate.
With runners at first and third and two outs, Texas decided to pitch to Cabrera, and his line drive down the right-field line on an 0-2 count stayed fair for a double to drive in a run.
Martinez drew a walk, loading the bases for Don Kelly, who hit a check-swing grounder to third. Beltre fielded the ball, then paused and waited to tag Cabrera. When the Detroit baserunner froze in his tracks, Beltre finally backpedaled toward the bag for the force to end the inning.
Detroit added two runs in the sixth. Peralta led off with a homer, and Jackson's RBI single made it 4-1. It was an encouraging night for Jackson, who entered 3 for 25 in the postseason with 14 strikeouts.
Cabrera's homer in the seventh, which stayed fair down the left-field line, was his second of the playoffs. It also came on an 0-2 pitch.
Detroit provided more than enough offense for Fister, who was terrific down the stretch after the Tigers acquired him in a trade with Seattle shortly before the July 31 deadline. He retired his final batter Tuesday on an unusual unassisted putout, fielding Endy Chavez's grounder and then hustling over to first because Cabrera was well off the bag, trying to position himself for a potential play on the ball.
Fister was lifted after that, and he tipped his cap to an appreciative crowd as he left the field.
"It gives me goose bumps to remember walking off on that," Fister said.