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Tigers play it by the book, but being indifferent on defense can hurt

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis – Defensive indifference. When is it OK for the defense to be indifferent in baseball?

The Tigers played a situation absolutely by the book in the ninth inning on Saturday, and yet it made for a fun debate.

Byron Buxton, center, celebrates his winning RBI-single off Jose Cisnero with Josh Donaldson, left, and Jorge Polanco in the ninth Saturday night.

“All day long,” shortstop Willi Castro said when asked if they would play it the same way the next time.

The Tigers took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday. You already know what happened. The Twins scored twice, walking it off on Byron Buxton’s infield single.

But what if the Tigers weren't so indifferent to Eddie Rosario taking second base a couple of pitches earlier? Let's set it up:

Reliever Jose Cisnero put himself in the soup with a leadoff walk. Singles by Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano tied the game.

With two outs, Cruz was on third and Rosario was on first when Buxton came to bat. The Tigers, as teams typically do in that situation, let Rosario take second without a play.

You wouldn't think twice about it except on Buxton’s swinging bunt, Castro would have had a far better chance to force Rosario at second than get Buxton at first. And with Cruz at third, there's little chance of him breaking for the plate on a throw to second base.

More: Victor Reyes has come a long way with Tigers; Lloyd McClendon gets an assist

“As soon as he hit it, I saw (Buxton) take off running,” Castro said. “I think that was the best play I could’ve done. I had to set my feet so I could make a strong throw. If I throw it running, it would be just a little lob. That was my best play. He’s a real fast guy.”

A flip to Jonathan Schoop would’ve been much easier, of course, but the risk of trying to throw Rosario out at second with the winning run at third – well, that’s a risk most teams don’t take.

“We were not throwing through in that situation,” acting manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Obviously you don’t want guys to take extra bases when you can avoid it. But I think in that situation we didn’t have much choice.

“First and third, we were not concerned about the guy taking second base.”

It would have been a gutsy play, for sure. But still, if the Tigers could’ve kept Rosario at first base, they would’ve had another out option against Buxton’s speed.

“All you risk is the winning run,” McClendon said, winning the point.