Detroit — The Tigers were hoping for another win, and they got it.
The fans – some of them, at least – were hoping for a different manager, and they got that, too, in a manner of speaking.
But if anybody was hoping the comforts of home – or the visiting Minnesota Twins – would ease the tensions of a Tigers team desperate for some relief, they didn’t necessarily get that Monday night.
What they got instead was another strange chapter in a season that’s starting to read like a Kurt Vonnegut novel. And if Sunday’s comeback win in Baltimore was viewed as a spark for a slump-ridden team, Monday’s near-disaster sure felt like a fuse lit at both ends for much of the night.
The Tigers blew an 8-0 lead, and their manager finally blew his top. But after the home team rallied with a pair late-inning homers by Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez, and after a 1-2-3 ninth from Francisco Rodriguez – a tidy finish to a game that was anything but – they at least were able to laugh about it.
And that’s a start, right? Smiles, and good cheer? For a team that had won just once since the last time they faced the Twins on May 1, going from May Day to mayday in the interim?
Sure, and especially after a night like this.
“That was probably one of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Jordan Zimmermann, an eight-year veteran – and the A.L. ERA leader coming in – who got the win Monday despite allowing eight runs on 11 hits.
His teammates had staked him to an 8-0 lead after the first inning, which seemed like a nice gesture for everybody in the Tigers’ dugout, including the embattled Brad Ausmus.
Ian Kinsler got things started with a first-pitch home run to left field. And from there, the rookie hazing continued as they chased the Twins’ Jose Berrios, a hard-throwing righty who is one of the top pitching prospects in the majors.
Ausmus vents frustrations
Berrios issued four walks and seven hits as the Tigers sent 13 batters to the plate in the inning. Kinsler added a double in his second at-bat. J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera also reached base twice. And Jose Iglesias cleared the bases in his at-bat with a shot off the wall in center field, doubling his season RBI total with one swing. The Tigers’ eight runs were more than they’d scored in 33 of their first 37 games this season.
But even that wouldn’t be enough on this night.
“It’s the type of game that is a nightmare, really, for a manager,” said Ausmus, who certainly would know by now. “Because you have an eight-run lead, and by all realistic chances you should win it. But until you get 27 outs, you haven’t won it.”
Sure enough, an hour later, there was Ausmus, melting down right along with his team. The lead was all but gone, the Twins having pulled to within 8-7 thanks mostly to a collection of big hits and bizarre bounces – “The fourth inning, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Zimmermann said – and the Tigers’ bats had fallen silent again.
So when Castellanos was called out on strikes by umpire Doug Eddings, who had a rough night behind home plate, Ausmus could stay quiet no more.
“There comes a point when you get 7-8 guys coming back to the dugout complaining about the strike zone, they can’t all be wrong,” he explained.
He got tossed from the dugout by Eddings, then came charging out to tell him what he really thought. And after Ausmus was finished undressing the ump with an expletive-filled rant – “I’m not going out there to be politically correct,” he said – Ausmus started disrobing himself. He kicked some dirt, then took off his sweatshirt and covered home plate with it, offering a few more choice words before heading to the dugout. He finally tossed his cap back on the field as he left, while the crowd of 25,925 roared its approval.
“That was entertaining,” Kinsler said. “I thought he did a good job in protecting his player, standing up for his player, and obviously put on a show. He got everybody excited. And anytime you can create energy like that, it’s a good thing. It was good for our team, and it happened at a good time.”
Indeed, it might’ve saved Castellanos from getting ejected himself. And that might’ve led to a different ending Monday, as it was Castellanos who gave the Tigers the lead again in the seventh after the Twins had tied it at 8-8 when J.D. Martinez dropped a routine fly ball.
Dismissal talk won’t end
For Ausmus, it was his second ejection of the season, and the ninth of his short managerial career, but undoubtedly his most emphatic — “I was angry, and just kind of unraveled there,” he said — and probably his most symbolic. A manager often criticized for his low-key demeanor let it all hang out Monday night.
“He’s been showing plenty of emotion,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “I mean, he shows it on the bench, he shows it in the clubhouse. He’s just as frustrated as we are. We’re all trying to find an answer, and plenty of times he’s getting on the umpire and getting on all of us to get things going, including himself. So we’ve seen it. I guess it’s just the first time the fans have seen it.”
Under fire, with speculation swirling about his fate as the Tigers’ tumbled below .500 this month, Ausmus sharply cut off questions on the subject before Monday’s game.
“I get it,” he said. “I’m on the hot seat. I might get fired. We’re done talking about it. You wanna talk about baseball, you wanna talk about the Tigers, you wanna talk about getting on a winning streak, that’s fine. This? We’re beating a dead horse.”
And beating the A.L.-worst Twins – as lively as Monday’s game was – certainly won’t put an end to that. Not for a team that’s still four games under .500 and seven out of first place in the A.L. Central with a $200 million payroll and an antsy owner.
Tigers general manager Al Avila did what he could to tamp down the flames Monday, expressing his disappointment over his team’s recent struggles but also backing his manager.
“I can understand everyone’s passion,” Avila told the News, “but I have to look at things in more of a calm fashion.”
Easier said than done, obviously. And as Monday’s entertainment veered into nightmarish territory, calm was a luxury Ausmus couldn’t afford.
But when asked later if he thought that fiery display might afford him a little more sympathy from an agitated fan base, he shrugged.
“I haven’t really considered it that way,” Ausmus smiled. “But I’ll take the support if it comes.”
And when the laughter in his office had subsided, he added, “I don’t think one tirade’s going to be enough.”
Probably not. But maybe it’s a start.