DETROIT -- It might not all have come down to the bunt. But then again, it might have. You know it, I know it, and even Torii Hunter knows it. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said after the game, "I talked to him about it before he went up and he was on board. He's done it before, just didn't work out that one time. You're not always going to be successful in your sacrifice bunt. Everyone thinks it's easy but when a guy's throwing 95 mph, that's not easy."
"He's done it before." Not exactly reassuring words when Hunter's average shelf life on bunted balls is, as he put it, "once every 10 years." He only had three bunts last season. But the fact still remains, Ausmus wanted a bunt put into play with the team down by two runs, two on and nobody out.
Video by Matthew B. Mowery/Oakland Press
"I didn't do my job today. I should have gotten that bunt down." Hunter told reporters. "That's my bad. I messed up on that one. I come to win, my manager tells me to do something I should be able to go out there and execute it and I didn't today, and that's probably why we lost."
The bunt was not the only issue in the game; the Tigers were just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position (The Indians were worse at 1-for-13). But the eighth inning certainly stood out as the last chance for the Tigers to make good on opportunities even with the surprising ninth inning dramatics of Alex Avila
Down by two runs going into the eighth inning, but with nobody out and two on, it would have been more beneficial -- given Hunter's recent track record -- to have him swing away. Instead, after falling behind 0-2 when he couldn't successfully lay down a bunt, he grounded out to a double play and two batters later the rally was cut short at 3-2.
The decision to have Hunter bunt is a rare mistake for Brad Ausmus. Given the choice, Hunter told the Detroit News' Lynn Henning he would have rather swung at the ball rather than bunt it initially. "I've driven in some runs in my career. I always want to be the one at the plate, in a clutch situation like that, try and get something done."
But Hunter knows it is also his job to do what is asked of him. Just like it was Avila's job to get his bat going again. Avila is not likely out of the woods just yet but he took a good step in the right direction and reached base twice. His double in the ninth inning (he advanced to third on a throwing error) was a welcome sight. Cabrera's bat began showing signs of life once more and Cabrera alone accounted for both of the runs scored in the game.
Despite hot bats getting on base, getting home was, and has been of late, an entirely different story. In fact, for the better part of a week the Tigers have had dozens of opportunities to produce runs and failed miserably. There is a ratio of what is acceptable given certain circumstances and poor weather. At some point, however, you need to look into why it's happening and compensate for that. The last three consecutive games are a prime example.
Thursday is a new day. The weather is predicted to be warm and Justin Verlander will be on the mound for the Tigers. Momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher, Jim Leyland used to say. At any rate, the Tigers need to be able to get the runner home, and not having Hunter bunt anytime in the foreseeable future may be a wise part of that. Leave the bunting duties to those who have that unique gift. People like Ian Kinsler.