Detroit — When the bullpen phone rang late it the game Monday night, Alex Wilson ignored it. Wasn’t likely to be for him. He’d pitched 2 2/3 innings the day before and wasn’t available.
So imagine his shock, then, when he was summoned to the dugout.
“They called me in from the bullpen,” Wilson said. “When I got there, they said I might run for Vic (Martinez) if he gets on.”
Wait. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning. If Martinez got on, he’d be representing the winning run. Wilson, not the fastest pitcher on the roster by far, was being considered as a pinch-runner?
The only other option was Leonys Martin, who was out of the lineup nursing a sore hamstring. The Tigers didn’t want to burn an available arm. So, Wilson got the call.
“They were checking to see if Leo would be OK,” Wilson said. “I said, ‘All right. I’m ready.’ I think I am a step or two faster than Victor, at least.”
Before he could even get loose, Wilson had to find a helmet that fit him. (American League relief pitchers don’t typically have batting helmets.) He ended up borrowing one of Niko Goodrum’s helmets.
“I was more nervous for that than I have been in a long time,” said Wilson, who hadn’t run the bases in a game since he was in college. “They asked me, ‘Do you know what to do?’ I said, ‘Yeah I know what to do. I just haven’t done it in 10 years.’
“I’ve been sitting out there (in the bullpen) critiquing everybody else, here’s my chance. Don’t blow it.”
Wilson, who played college ball at Texas A&M, and Gardenhire, who played at Texas, have exchanged verbal assaults back and forth all season.
“Gardy’s exact words were, ‘Did they teach you this stuff at that Aggie school?’” Wilson said. “I said, ‘Yeah, we got tired of running the bases when we played against Texas.’”
So, there was Wilson, helmet on, stretching, when Martinez rapped a one-out, two-run single to cut the Rays lead to 3-2.
“I start walking toward Gardy and he’s already sent Leo out there,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘Come on!”
That’s not exactly how it happened.
“We brought Willie in from the pen to run, but Martin beat him out there,” Gardenhire said. “He said, ‘I’m doing it, Skip.’ And that was that.”
Wilson was bummed. Good-naturedly, but still ...
“Almost a career milestone for me,” he said. “I’ve been shafted on an at-bat (Friday in Pittsburgh) and a pinch-running situation all in one week. We probably score there, too, because the world needs to see me rumbling around third base.
“That’s probably the first and last time I will ever be considered for a pinch-runner.”