San Diego — In the end it didn’t matter. The Tigers fought back and snapped the eight-game losing streak with a 7-5 win over the Padres.
But at the time, it felt ominous. It felt like the kind of play that had broken the Tigers throughout the losing streak. And, to further the analogy, it involved a bunt.
It was the bottom of the fourth inning. The Tigers had helped starter Jordan Zimmermann up off the mat, scoring three times in the top of the fourth to tie the game at 3. They needed a shutdown inning to build on the momentum.
But Zimmermann, who had already given up home runs to Wil Myers and Erick Aybar, put the first two runners on — a bunt single by Aybar and a walk. Aybar alertly went to third base on a line out to center field by Matt Szczur.
That brought up the pitcher’s spot — Clayton Richard, the former Michigan backup quarterback. Manager Brad Ausmus came to the mound to set the defense.
“That’s exactly what I discussed,” Aumus said. “They may try to bunt toward first base to score the runner from third.”
The Tigers were in at the corners and Richard set down a well-placed bunt toward first base. Miguel Cabrera charged it, but Zimmermann got to it first. Cabrera was pointing and yelling for Zimmermann to throw to first.
But Zimmermann, his momentum going toward the first-base line, spun and threw late to the plate.
“I probably should have gone to first,” Zimmermann said. “I thought I might’ve had enough time to go home with it. It’s one of those plays; you field it, you have to spin and make a blind throw.”
Zimmermann said he heard Cabrera yell, but with roar in the stadium, he didn’t know what he said.
“I just took my chances going home, thinking if I did go home and he’s safe, there would still be time to get Richard at first,” Zimmermann said. “It didn’t work out.”
Said Ausmus: “He made a nice bunt. The decision to throw home was where it went wrong. He should have gone to first and taken the out because the run was going to score. But it was just a good bunt. Even if you are aware of it, you can’t always defend it, unless you are 100 percent sure they are going to bunt.
“We thought he was going to bunt, but we weren’t 100 percent sure.”
The situation got darker when Jose Pirela followed with an RBI double to make it 5-3, and runners were still on second and third with two out. Zimmermann, though, got Myers to ground out and keeping it a two-run game — a two-run deficit being much more surmountable than a four-run deficit.
Zimmermann only lasted four innings, but that was as big an out as there may have been in the game.
“We got the win, that’s all that matters,” Zimmermann said.