'Little League stuff': Tigers' misplays, lapses factor heavily in latest loss
Detroit — Gloomy night. Gloomy performance. Fiesta Tigres turned out to be muy triste for the home team. And right in the center of things, smiling like the gentle assassin that he is, was former Tigre Leonys Martin.
"I wasn't afraid, man," he said after his straight steal of home plate in the eighth innings helped the Cleveland Indians seal a 4-2 win at Comerica Park Saturday.
He was anything but.
The Tigers had just scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to make it a one-run game. Martin, who hit a three-run homer in the Indians' rout Friday night, led off the eighth with a double off reliever Victor Alcantara.
He advanced to third on a medium-depth fly ball to left field — fearlessly challenging the arm of left fielder Christin Stewart. It took Martin two pitches to discover that the right-handed Alcantara was putting his head down when he came set and never looked at him.
"As soon as he put the head down, that was the right time," Martin said. "I was waiting for that moment. He keep the head down every single time. After I see a couple pitches, I said this is the right moment, this is a good opportunity.
"The third baseman helped me a little bit in that decision, because he was far away from the base.”
On the pitch before, catcher John Hicks had bluffed Martin back to third, so he had an inkling of what Martin was thinking.
"Victor's got his little thing when he comes set where he looks down," Hicks said. "I saw Leo way down the line that's why on the pitch before I kind of faked like we were going to throw behind him.
"But when he came set again, I saw Leo take off and I was yelling with everything I have to step off."
Alcantara reacted when he heard Hicks yell, and his throw arrived at the plate just as Martin was sliding head first. His hand actually knocked the ball out of Hicks' glove.
"Every time I do my windup, I just look down and he noticed that it was a regular thing for me," said Alcantara through interpreter Carlos Guillen. "I heart (Hicks) but also I had my eyes half on him. I noticed he was on his way.
"It frustrating. It makes me a little said. But it's baseball. The thing to do is keep my head up. Tomorrow is another day."
It wasn't as easy for the Tigers' coaching staff to wash off. Bench coach Steve Liddle, who again took over after manager Ron Gardenhire was ejected in the sixth inning, called the play inexcusable
"That's a little league play," he said. "For a right-handed pitcher to allow a runner that's directly in front of him to score like that. And then our third baseman not going over toward the bag as Leonys was walking the line — that's Little League stuff."
Liddle said that play, and a messy defensive inning in a three-run fifth, showed the difference between a playoff-caliber team and one that's rebuilding.
"The youth starts to show up on plays like that," he said. "You've got veteran players, you're playing against a veteran team and those things tend to show up. We've got to grow with that. We've got to learn from our mistakes."
To this point, as Liddle's exasperation clearly showed, the learning curve is too slow.
"The general idea is you don't want to keep repeating the same things over and over," he said. "How many times do you have to tell a guy? Well the answer is, one more time until somebody from above (front office) says that's enough and we move on and move forward.
"Hopefully, they'll get it. It's still a learning experience for these guys."
About that fifth inning, when the Indians broke a scoreless tie with three runs. You might want to avert your eyes.
Orlando Mercado led off with a soft liner off reliever Nick Ramirez’s glove. Infield single. Carlos Santana poked a high, outside pitch into right field for another single.
Jordan Luplow then hit a fly ball to right field that Nick Castellanos seemed to lose in the murky sky. He misplayed it into an RBI double, leaving runners at second and third.
“If you go back and look at how he hit it, the way he lunged and kind of stood up -- I took two hard steps in and then I was like, 'Oh (crap),'" Castellanos said. "I just turned around and tried to do the best I could.”
It was a rough sky and there was misty rain falling most of the night.
“It was extremely difficult to play defense today," he said. "Also running in the mist, running with our gloves in front of our faces. But that’s not what happened with the double on the wall. I took two hard steps in and then had to turn around immediately and start running to the wall.”
After Jose Ramirez hit a sacrifice fly and Nick Ramirez got Jason Kipnis to ground out, Kevin Plawecki hit a one-hop ground ball that handcuffed third baseman Dawel Lugo. It was scored a single, RBI.
When Niko Goodrum successfully converted a routine ground ball from Jake Bauers into the third out, the small, wet crowd let out a sarcastic cheer, for which no jury would convict.
"It's unacceptable at this level," Liddle said. "And I believe the guys will own up to that. That's what happens when you get caught up in the speed of the game. It's the mental side of the game that separates you up here.
"Everybody is talented. Everyone here has major league talent. It's who can control their heart rate and keep their head in key situations — those are the guys that stay here."
Gardenhire, like most of the crowd, wasn’t around for the finish of this one. He was ejected in the sixth inning after complaining about the strike zone of home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez.
"Ron had a little disagreement with the strike zone tonight," Liddle said. "All we can do is go back and look at the box and if the box is accurate, there were a few calls outside the box the he called and it seemed like we weren't getting the same calls.
For six innings, the Tigers offense was dominated by Indians right hander Shane Bieber. He put down the first 12 hitters before Miguel Cabrera led off the fifth inning with a single. That was the only blemish through six innings. He had 11 strikeouts at that point, getting the Tigers to swing and miss 12 times with his slider and six times with his knuckle curve.
He lost some of the bite on those breaking balls in the seventh. After he walked Stewart on four pitches, Bieber gave up singles to Castellanos, Cabrera and Brandon Dixon, whose hit plated two runs.
But he got out of that inning with an unusual 5-4-5 double-play — Cabrera was tagged out at third after the Indians got the force out at second.
Bieber ended up going 7⅔ innings and striking out 12.
Other than three hits by Cabrera, the only bright spot for the Tigers was the performance of rookie left-hander Gregory Soto.
Called up from Triple-A Toledo to make a spot start, the Tigers hoped he could give them two, maybe three innings. He did them one better. Soto shut the Indians out for four innings, allowing just two singles.
In his previous four starts, his four-seam and two-seam sinking fastball averaged 93.6 mph. On Saturday, he was pumping them in between 95-97 mph. He got three swings and misses and 11 called strikes with his sinker.
His pitch count was elevated (75) because of four walks.