August 14, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Tigers closer Joe Nathan apologizes for gestures he made at fans

Detroit — Tigers closer Joe Nathan apologized Thursday for gestures he made at fans following an 8-4 win over the Pirates on Wednesday night.

“I know I’m better than that,” he said about what happened following the final pitch Wednesday night.

Angry at, and frustrated by the boos directed at him by the fans in the ninth inning, Nathan responded with two chin flicks during the hand-shaking process with teammates before leaving the field.

In mild terms, a chin flick is an international gesture for “get lost.”

Nathan’s actions were caught on camera, made the rounds on Twitter — and were addressed by him as soon as he arrived at the Tigers’ clubhouse for Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh.

The reasons for the booing is that Nathan has had a rough first season for the Tigers. He has saved 24 games, but with a 5.11 ERA he hasn’t been consistent.

And when he walked the first two batters he faced with a four-run lead on Wednesday, even when he got behind in the count to the first batter he faced, fans reacted by booing him.

This time, after a double-play ended a scoreless inning for Nathan, his frustration overflowed.

But he began his apology with a joke:

“I forgot to use Head & Shoulders on my beard,” he said. “It was a little itchy.”

Then he got into the seriousness of the matter.

“Both sides were frustrated,” he said. “Fans obviously were frustrated. I was frustrated. I apologize for that. I have two kids and I need to be a better example for them.

“Thank God they’re still young enough that they won’t know about this, but I do know, and I need to be better for that.”

Nathan said he and the fans are on the same page to this extent: “They want us to win and we obviously want to win. We’re trying to accomplish the same things. But unfortunately this incident happened.”

After a 2-7 three-city trip, the Tigers returned home in second place of the American League Central, having lost the five-game lead with which they left town.

Nathan, a proven closer whom the Tigers signed to a two-year, $20 million contract in the offseason, suffered his sixth blown save in one of the games in Toronto.

But his troubles go all the way back to April when he blew his first save opportunity of the season.

Fans have never fully trusted him since, even though he’s had periods of consistency.

“Listen, there are no hard feelings,” Nathan said about that. “There’s no frustration towards them. It’s their right to do whatever they want.

“I know they are behind this team 100 percent and they want us to get to the postseason.

“I know they want us to go out there and be perfect every time. I wish it was that easy, too, but this game isn’t easy sometimes. You’re going to go out and have struggles.

“The thing is I don’t think I have been struggling lately. I think it’s gone pretty well.”

That depends on the definition of “lately.” In his last 10 appearances, Nathan has five saves in six save situations with a 0.96 earned-run average.

But in his eight games before that, he had a 6.75 ERA.

“I think fans right now have a short leash on how they want me to go out and pitch,” he said. “They have a perception of how it should go, and if it doesn’t go that way, they get frustrated.

“I think I threw ball one and everything started — and the whole inning got the better of me.

“I understand their frustrations and I do apologize for my actions. I want to put it behind us as quickly as we can and go on to what’s important — and that’s helping this team win.”

Despite the fact that his children are too young to be aware of how he behaved, Nathan apologized to them as well.

“I’m going to be better for my kids,” he said. “I’m going to be a better example for them. I want to be a better person for that — someone they can look up to.

“This (incident) is something I’ve never been a part of, have never done, and never will again.”

Tigers closer Joe Nathan gestures to fans after Thursday's win against the Pirates. / Fox Sports
Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones, left, comes out to talk with pitcher Joe ... (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)