‘Freak play,’ Victor’s blast, Upton’s gem add to drama

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Upton makes a leaping grab on a drive by Adeiny Hechavarria in the ninth inning Tuesday night.

Miami – Odd base running situations seem to follow the Tigers around – regardless of how much emphasis they put on running the bases more expertly.

Go back to the top of the 10th inning Tuesday night. The Marlins had just scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth off closer Francisco Rodriguez to tie the game, 7-7.

Right-hander A.J. Ramos walked J.D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos and, with two outs, Jose Iglesias.

With Anthony Gose at the plate and in a two-strike hole, Ramos threw one past catcher J.T. Realmuto. The ball bounced hard off the backstop right back to Realmuto at the plate.

Martinez and Castellanos both put on the brakes and headed back to their bases. Iglesias, however, went too far and was hung up between first and second. Realmuto threw the ball to first baseman Justin Bour as all three runners froze.

Iglesias seemed to be waiting for Martinez to break for the plate, which he never did. Iglesias, instead of trying to get into a rundown, seemed to give up on the play and was tagged out by second baseman Dee Gordon to end the inning.

“It was a freak play,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “The ball bounced right back to the catcher. It’s very difficult to watch the ball and watch the runner in front of you at the same time. That’s a play you don’t see very often.”

Ausmus said, ideally, Iglesias should have tried to get in a rundown to force a throw to the plate. But, in Iglesias’ defense, Martinez didn’t break for the plate.

“I think Iggy was trying to take advantage of Gordon looking at third base, thinking he might be able to sneak around him and get back to the base,” Ausmus said.

A couple other items from the Tigers’ 8-7 opening-night win that may have gotten lost in the late-inning drama:

* Victor Martinez made the most of his one at-bat. He hit a pinch-hit home run to left-center off right-hander Bryan Morris in the ninth inning. It was just the second pinch-hit homer of Martinez’s career.

Morris, like many pitchers did last year when Martinez was struggling on a weakened left knee, threw his first pitch down and in, forcing Martinez to make a quick, evasive move with his left leg.

Martinez dug back in and hit the next pitch out of the park.

“There was no intent there,” Martinez said Wednesday. “It was just a slider or something that he yanked. Last year (pitchers him pitches down and in) was obvious. But with these guys (the Marlins), nah, we don’t play them much.”

* Ausmus warned Shane Greene that he could be used in relief Tuesday or Wednesday. Greene, the team’s fifth starter, will make his first start Monday.

“I’ve done both,” Greene said. “I’ve done some experimenting in the minor leagues and I knew what I needed to do to get ready. I knew it was an option. Brad told me that it would probably have to be an emergency situation, but once it got to extra innings I knew there was a pretty good chance I’d be getting in.”

Greene wasn’t the only option available, but he was the best one, Ausmus said.

“We had Buck Farmer down there (and left-hander Kyle Ryan),” he said. “They had right-handers coming up and no left-handers left on the bench. (Dee) Gordon was the only left-hander and he hits lefties better than righties. We felt Greene gave us the best chance to win in that situation.”

Greene pitched a quick and clean inning for his first career save.

“To be 100 percent honest with you, I had a lot of adrenalin,” he said. “I had never pitched on opening day, never had a save opportunity – I was fired up.”

* Justin Upton made a strong first impression in his Tigers debut. He doubled in his first at-bat, got two hits on the night and made several top-notch defensive plays. None better than the catch he made on a drive by Adeiny Hechavarria in the ninth inning.

With runners on second and third and one out, Hechavarria hit line drive directly over Upton’s head in left field. Upton got an excellent jump, turned, tracked and caught the liner with a lunge right before the fence.

“He could have single-handedly won the game for us tonight with his defense,” Justin Verlander said.

Twitter @cmccosky