Detroit — It was hilarious, it really was. But it could have ended up decidedly unfunny.
Justin Upton, after launching his 24th home of the season in the third inning Friday, held up a finger as he rounded second base as if it to say, “Hold up a second.”
“I know I clipped first base with the side of my foot, but with replay these days, you just never know,” he said. “I just decided to make sure.”
So he went back, retouched second base and went all the way back to first base before turning back and resuming his home-run trot.
“He should’ve been out,” Ian Kinsler said, his locker right next to Upton’s in the Tigers clubhouse.
“Don’t tell them that,” Upton said, smiling.
“They can’t do anything about it now,” Kinsler said.
Nope. Upton’s home run, as well as the second one he hit Friday, are a matter of record. But by rule, Upton should have been awarded a single and called out.
“Yeah, once a play is called dead — and once it’s considered a home run, the play is dead — you can only retouch one base,” Upton said. “So I could really only retouch second base. If they challenged, I would have been out. But it’s in the books now.”
It’s Rule 5.09(c)(2):
“While the ball is dead, no runner may return to touch a missed base or one he has left too soon after he has advanced to and touched a base beyond the missed base. A runner may return to a missed base (or one he has left too soon) during the time the ball is dead if he has not touched the next base. A runner may, of course, return to any missed base (or one he has left too soon) while the ball is in play unless a following runner has scored.”
Here is the first example cited:
Batter hits a home run out of the ballpark or a ground-rule double and misses first base (ball is dead). Ruling: The batter-runner may return to first base to correct the mistake before touching second; but if the batter-runner touches second he may not return to first, and if defensive team appeals the batter-runner is declared out at first.
“Lucky for me they didn’t know the rule, or didn’t challenge,” he said.
Upton had four hits on in Friday’s 8-5 loss to the Dodgers, with the two homers, a double and three RBIs. Since the All-Star break, he’s hitting .331 with a .411 on-base percentage, .669 slugging with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 33 games.
His OPS is 1.080 in that stretch, second to Joey Gallo in the American League.
It’s a bitter-sweet run.
“Obviously we’re not playing very well, but our job is to still come out here and play every day and play to win,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing. That’s how I feel about it. We’re still playing to win ballgames. We have to. That’s what our job is. If you come to the ballpark and you are any kind of competitor, you want to win.”
Upton said he also feels a sense of responsibility to set the tone for the ever-increasing number of younger players in the clubhouse.
“It’s our job not to shut it down and show those guys that you play 162 games, no matter what,” he said. “You show up every day to play and play to win. Just try to show them what winning baseball is about.”
The elephant in the room, which Upton has not shied away from, is the pending opt-out. He could forego the final three years and $98 million with the Tigers and put himself back on the free agent market.
“I mean, I can't make a decision on that right now, so that doesn't affect me right now,” he said.
He said he would sit down with general manager Al Avila after the season before making any decision.
“Those conversations will be had,” he said. “I think all the veterans in here want to know what direction we're going and the future of the organization. Al's got an open door and I'm sure guys will call and try to figure out what's going on.
“Right now, all that stuff's a little too early to talk about. We still have baseball games to play. When the time comes, we'll figure out what's next.”