Seattle — It goes into the books as just another loss for the Tigers, another late-inning gut-punch in a season full of them. But if you can somehow remove the bottom-line result from consideration, the 3-2 loss to the Mariners Friday night was a fascinating baseball game.
Start with Mariners’ 31-year-old rookie Ryan Court, just called up earlier in the day. After eight years of scuffling in the minor leagues and independent baseball, he finally made his big-league debut.
And there was no easing him in.
He was asked to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run at second base and one out. And with his first, and so far only, swing in the big leagues, he very nearly won the game. But his screaming line drive went straight at left fielder Niko Goodrum.
A foot either way and he's a hero. That would have been a heckuva debut.
►In the top of the ninth, Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford made what might be the defensive play of the year. On a ball that left Jeimer Candelario’s bat at 100 mph, Crawford grabbed it backhanded, diving to his right.
Then, somehow, he contorted his body into a spin and fired a seed to first base.
“That was awesome,” said Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer. “That no-look throw was the crazy part of it. You know where the base is. I mean, you have an idea where it is, but to be able to make that accurate of a throw, that was pretty impressive.”
Mariners first baseman Austin Nola, who made a nice stretch to finish the play, was equally awestruck.
“I got to the bag and it looked like he threw it over his head like a Hakeem Olajuwon hook shot,” he told Seattle reporters. “It was unbelievable. It just came out of nowhere. I was surprised with how much juice it had on the throw. Never seen a throw like that.
“I’m going to re-watch it and see how it played out because I was so focused — when I saw the ball, I was like, all right I’m going to stretch as hard as I can.”
Candelario just stared out at Crawford after the play.
“I was just like, ‘Whatever,’” he said.
► Harold Castro pulled off a winter ball trick on Kristopher Negron to keep him at third base and help keep the game tied, in the seventh inning. Call it a Caribbean version of the hidden ball trick.
The Mariners had already tied the game and with two outs, Negron singled and stole second base. As catcher John Hicks’ throw went into center field, Castro alertly held his glove on Negron’s leg, as if he was holding the tag.
Negron didn’t know the ball was in center field until it was too late.
“We call that ‘jugo Caribe (play Carribean),’” Tigers translator Carlos Guillen said. “It’s just thinking outside of the box real quick.”
Castro, a veteran of 186 winter ball games, shrugged.
“Just instinct,” he said.
► Miguel Cabrera almost pulled off a little Jugar Carribe himself in the fourth inning when he nearly stole first base, in a manner of speaking.
Cabrera was on first when Brandon Dixon hit a ground ball right to Nola, who was only a step off the bag. Cabrera took a couple steps toward second and then turned quickly back to first. It ended up being a rare unassisted double-play on a ground ball to first base, but had Nola thrown to second after tagging first — which would be his play and was what Cabrera was banking on — he would have been safe at first.
“That was actually really smart on Miggy’s part,” Mercer said. “If (Nola) wouldn’t have bobbled the ball, he would’ve thrown it. Just in that split second, Miggy was already turned around, if he didn’t bobble it, he would have thrown it to second, and Miggy would’ve been safe.”
►Hicks channeled his old Cali-League days in the first inning. Back in 2012, Hicks set a California League record by throwing out 54 percent of would-be base stealers. And it was that year he twice denied Delino DeShields his 100th stolen base in the same game.
So, there was Mallex Smith on first base in the first inning, looking for his 100th career stolen base. Daniel Norris threw over to first three times to hold him close. Then he gave Hicks a perfect high and outside fastball on the next pitch.
Hicks threw out Smith easily.
Smith, as DeShields ultimately did, will get his 100th steal. Just not against Hicks.