Ausmus on basepaths gaffe: Not much a coach can do

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — So, why no help from the Tigers coaching staff during the eighth inning of the game Tuesday night at Comerica Park during which two baserunners were fooled in a 3-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals?

It’s because everything happened so quickly. Victor Martinez’s liner to right. Jorge Bonifacio’s sprint to the corner to glove it. And a bullet of a relay to Eric Hosmer at first, which not only doubled off Mikie Mahtook, but beat Justin Upton’s tag-and-sprint from third base to home plate.

No runs. Two outs. And two very embarrassed baserunners.

“Off the bat, there’s not a lot a coach can do,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, replaying a catastrophic sequence of events that thwarted Martinez’s bid for a one- or two-run double. “You (a baserunner) have to trust your instincts.”

It all happened with one out in the Tigers’ half of the eighth. Upton stood at third and Mahtook at first, with the switch-hitting Martinez settling in against right-handed reliever Joakim Soria.

Martinez ripped a rope that was headed to the right-field corner. A sure double, even for Martinez, who turns plenty of doubles into singles.

But the Royals are, along with all clubs in 2017, on top of their analytics. They had Bonifacio playing so close to the corner he might as well have paid for a box seat.

He tracked down the ball and whirled for his relay. Mahtook, who couldn’t believe the ball was going to be grabbed, was dead, and so was Upton, who had begun heading for home, then had to tag at third, which took just long enough to allow Bonifacio’s throw to beat Upton across the plate.

“I can’t say for sure he would have crossed home plate,” Ausmus said, reviewing the play and Upton’s initial read. “He did have to go back (tag at third). I can’t say he definitely would have beaten it. I just don’t know.”

Ausmus said, in all his years in baseball, the Royals’ outfield shift Tuesday was unprecedented.

“The right fielder is never standing there,” Ausmus aid. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it to that extent. But in today’s game, outfield shifts are extreme.”

Fulmer’s fine

Michael Fulmer ended up with a loss.

But he would have been correct in rejecting it.

He pitched another jewel of a game, focusing on keeping his pitches a bit lower in the strike zone after the Royals and some weird events made his last start, last week at Kansas City, a bit forgettable.

“I thought I hit my spots pretty well tonight,” said Fulmer, whose slider, in is mind, was the best it has been in any game this season.

Fulmer’s record is 10-8 and his ERA is 3.35.

He now has 17 quality starts (at least six innings, three or fewer earned runs). Only two big-league pitchers, Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw, have as many as Fulmer.

Marathon men

The Tigers are living, if not large, most certainly long.

They had a nine-inning game Sunday at Minnesota that lasted four hours, 19 minutes. They followed Monday with a 12-inning contest against the Royals that lasted 3 hours, 57 minutes. It was the 30th time this season the Tigers had played a game of 3 1/2 hours or longer.

Entering Tuesday’s game against the Royals, the Tigers’ last six games had extended at least 3 hours, 15 minutes.

That string ended, mercifully, when the Royals won, 3-1, in a comparative whirlwind of a game that lasted 2 hours, 49 minutes.

Prior to Tuesday, the Tigers had played only 25 games under three hours, third-fewest of all big-league teams behind the Yankees and Rays.

Reasons would seem to be many.

The Tigers tend to use a fair share of pitchers, although in Monday’s game they used half as many (four) as the Royals.

The Tigers take their share of pitches and tend to run counts high. They also extend innings with an offense that, beyond walks, often strings together hits in spurts.

Add it all up and ballgames can become more of an all-night, or in Sunday’s case, an all-afternoon, experience.