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Published: Tuesday, 7/15/2008

Tough guy: Tigers' Carlos Guillen is a survivor

STORIES BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The Tigers  Carlos Guillen has 8 home runs, 47 RBIs, and has scored 45 runs. The Tigers Carlos Guillen has 8 home runs, 47 RBIs, and has scored 45 runs.
PAUL SANCYA / AP Enlarge

He had a nagging hamstring injury about two weeks into the season, a swollen knee thanks to a foul ball, and hemorrhoids.

Oh, those painful hemorrhoids.

Yet, ask Carlos Guillen, the Detroit Tigers lone 2008 All-Star, what he s most proud of this year, and he ll say it s his ability to stay healthy.

When you can stay healthy, that s when you contribute more for your team, said Guillen, 32, who is on his second straight American League All-Star team and third overall. When you re healthy, you put up numbers, you learn something every day. That s my goal.

Guillen s All-Star candidacy was more about perseverance than performance. His statistics are good .284 average, eight homers, 47 RBIs but not eye-popping by any stretch.

Yet, those pedestrian numbers were enough to get him selected to tonight s All-Star game from a team loaded with talent that has largely under-performed. The Tigers entered the All-Star break an uninspiring 47-47 and in third place in the AL Central, and he said he endured many sleepless nights trying to solve his team s woes.

Perseverance.

Then there s the continuous flip-flopping of defensive positions. A shortstop for most of his career, the Tigers switched him to a full-time first baseman for the start of this season. After 23 games at first, Guillen moved over to third base, trading places with Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers also stuck him in left field for two games, the first of which was his major league debut there.

Perseverance.

There are also those bumps and bruises.

A sore hamstring in mid-April. A knee so swollen around the end of April that manager Jim Leyland one day said he can t even walk. And a case of hemorrhoids at the end of May we needn t say more.

All of that, yet Guillen has played in 86 of the Tigers 94 games. Only Cabrera has played in more.

Perseverance.

I admire people that never complain. They come in here and they play every day, they go about their business, said Leyland, who considers Guillen a personal favorite.

He s a good person, got a good heart. He s really a good guy.

Guillen shrugs when he s reminded just how turbulent this year has been. This season, he says, is nothing compared to what he went through in 2001.

I played for 2 weeks with tuberculosis, Guillen said. I lost 3 liters of blood. When I finally went to the doctor, he said if I played two more games, I might pass on.

Guillen was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis on Sept. 28, 2001. He played in 12 games from Sept. 3-26, hit safely in 11 of them, and registered a .450 average with four extra-base hits and four RBIs during that stretch.

I lost 20 pounds, Guillen said of that experience. I was coughing up blood, I couldn t run hard. I had to call my mom back in Venezuela because I didn t know what tuberculosis was.

So Guillen is tough, it s obvious. But he s also smart, so much so that he s talked about as a future manager when his playing days are over.

Guillen, in his 10th major league season, is personable in the clubhouse and can be seen chatting it up with Latin infielders and Texan outfielders just the same. One of the reasons Leyland likes Guillen so much is they can sit and talk about the game about strategies, players, techniques.

And Guillen s teammates know that he knows what he s talking about.

He s the smartest player we ve got on the field, Cabrera said.

Guillen can play a little bit, too.

While he s already committed 12 errors this year including 10 at third base he has become a solid defender as he s gotten used to the hot corner. Playing without hemorrhoids also helps.

He made several fine defensive plays during Detroit s recent homestand, including catching a bullet hit on one hop to him in the ninth inning of a tie game against Cleveland last Wednesday. He threw home to get the runner coming from third, and later nabbed a hot shot off Andy Marte s bat and threw to first to preserve a 6-6 tie.

The Tigers won that game 8-6 in the bottom of the ninth.

I think he s a little underrated as far as this team goes, said Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander. I don t think a lot of people realize what he brings to the table. What he s done [at third base], to be able to make some plays over there and really get comfortable, that s pretty impressive.

There is no question Guillen is excited and honored to be a part of tonight s All-Star game, the last at Yankee Stadium. He says it s a result of hard work and being prepared to play.

Playing hurt, playing with the team stuck in a funk, playing whatever position he s asked to play.

You learn how to play with pain in this game, Guillen said.

Contact Joe Vardon at:jvardon@theblade.comor 419-410-5055.



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