Detroit — They believed any ugly suspicions had been erased Wednesday, all because the idea of hitting an umpire with a pitch was, to the Tigers, something out of movie fiction.
Or, as manager Brad Ausmus repeated Thursday, because it was “preposterous.”
But on various airwaves and across the usual social-media corridors Thursday there remained sinister thoughts, particularly in Cleveland, that the Tigers had hit home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott with a pitch as retaliation for Quinn’s balls-strikes judgment in Wednesday’s game against the Indians at Progressive Field.
“I can’t be any more adamant with a denial,” said Ausmus, shaking his head in the Tigers manager’s office Thursday morning as his team dressed for a 1:10 p.m. game against the White Sox at Comerica Park. “I couldn’t even imagine it.”
Imaginations were at work in Wednesday’s third inning when catcher James McCann and Ausmus were both dismissed after McCann argued heatedly with Wolcott about pitches ruled balls the Tigers considered strikes.
The bases were filled with Indians runners when John Hicks replaced McCann at catcher and got ready for a slider from Tigers pitcher Buck Farmer.
Except that it wasn’t a slider. With runners on base, signs changed, and Farmer thought Hicks had called for a fastball. Hicks moved his mitt to the right, preparing for the “slider” to break. A two-seam heater at 92 mph instead crashed into Wolcott’s shoulder.
The accident seemed, to a good many Indians followers and to the team’s broadcasters, more than a coincidence. It was heightened when Hicks went about his business and didn’t immediately check on Wolcott.
Except, of course, Hicks in the ensuing seconds had other priorities.
“The ball’s live!” Ausmus said. “He’s got to get the ball. It’s not dead because it hit the umpire.”
Ausmus added, sardonically, speaking of Hicks: “He’s not a medic.”
Hicks also was astonished Thursday that there could be questions, even innocent questions, about Wednesday’s slip-up. He said he had been “catching a lot of guff from Indians fans” but that the flak was absurd and, he said, insulting.
“I’ve been catching a long time,” said Hicks, who was a star catcher at the University of Virginia before he was drafted in 2011 by the Mariners. “If I know a fastball’s coming, I’m catching the ball every time.”
Hicks acknowledged the Indians camp, and others, wondered why he didn’t sooner check on Wolcott. Hicks shared Ausmus’ disbelief.
“It was because I couldn’t,” he said. “Instantly, I went to get the ball. The bases were loaded. I’m first trying to keep guys from scoring.”
Hicks said after he’d retrieved the pitch and time was called he initially stayed away from Wolcott “because the other umpires were all around him, and I wasn’t going to jump in there with those guys.”
He repeated that any idea he and Farmer, in the span of a few moments, conspired to plunk an umpire was fantasy.
“We’re trying to win a major-league game,” Hicks aid. “It’s petty to think I’d be trying to hit the umpire.
“In a game, you’re going to have some differences of opinion, but at no point, ever, would I, or Brad, or Buck consider doing something like that.
“It’s immoral and ridiculous.”
Hicks said any analysis of game video would make clear there was no mischief. He initially called for a fastball away. Farmer shook him off. Hicks called for a slider.
Farmer had read Hicks’ signs in opposite fashion. He cut loose with a fastball.
“Most major-league catchers will miss that ball,” Ausmus said, “because he was expecting it to break.
“I admit, the timing of it made it look suspicious. But you’re talking about two guys and it didn’t cross their minds to do this.
“I mean, c’mon,” Ausmus said. “That’s asinine.”