If the Detroit Tigers go on to win the division, Tuesday night's implosion in the bottom of the ninth inning versus the Minnesota Twins — and the reasons it occurred — will be largely forgotten over time.
If they don't, then that game becomes etched in my memory as "Carrera's Flop."
It was an absolutely awful decision on the part of Ezequiel Carrera to make an ill-advised dive at a sinking liner off the bat of Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki. Carrera's gaffe gave the Twins three free bases on the play, as pinch-runner Doug Bernier raced home from first base and Suzuki advanced to second. With only a one-run lead to protect, giving up three free bases is a lot to overcome for Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, much less the erstwhile Joe Nathan.
The profound lack of situational awareness put on by Carrera was stunning. Yes, getting the out from a highlight reel catch would have been amazing, but even on TV it was immediately looking tenuous at best. Carrera had to know his odds of catching it were slipping by the micro-second. Keeping the double play in order had to be the priority there. His baseball sense was wonting badly there and it really cost his club.
Nathan wasn't great in Tuesday night's outing (nor was his counterpart, Glen Perkins, for that matter). The walk to Trevor Plouffe started the fiasco in motion, but Nathan induced two grounders after Carrera's Flop. If the runner was on first base, as he should have been, there was a chance Nathan extricates himself from the inning. There was certainly a good chance the game would have remained tied, and the two teams would have continued to the 10th. Nathan isn't so much to "blame" for that loss, it's questionable that he should have even been in the game. That's on the manager.
Tuesday's game marked another instance this season Brad Ausmus has yanked Rick Porcello on a reasonable pitch count, only to see the game lost. The outing in Arizona where Porcello was at 77 pitches after seven innings — with Joba Chamberlain and Nathan both heavily used in the games just prior — was particularly galling. Ausmus needs to trust the main front-line talent on his club and push them to the finish line. Not in reckless fashion, but take advantage of what's put in front of him.
Nobody is asking Porcello to throw 130 pitches. The chance to let an effective and not overly taxed Porcello finish was in front of him. Instead, Ausmus is managing by rote, using the Closer Formula even with a sub-standard closer. There are many times that's unavoidable and Nathan needs to take the mound for lack of better alternatives. Tuesday in Minnesota was not one of those times.
Porcello has pitched complete games this season. He rolled through the last couple of innings he had pitched and stood at merely 103 pitches. It was very reasonable to send him out to finish that game. Instead, Ausmus put his closer in the game because that's what managers do. No thinking necessary. If there was some word on Porcello wanting out, that's fine, but there have been no reports of that happening.
The Tigers have been playing well of late. Ausmus should get some credit for this if he's also going to get deep criticism. For instance, the decision to roll with Andrew Romine as the primary shortstop is working out well to this point. Ausmus has been dealt the hand of a weak bullpen, so it's hard to always look good. Most observers get that, but it's a hard job and he signed up for it. Unflattering critique's come with the job. Decisions are scrutinized and in a tight race they all matter that much more once the calendar flips to September.
Most disappointment in Ausmus seems to center around the view that "he's just another guy" pushing buttons like the majority of the button pushers in other dugouts. Can he change that view over time? We'll have to see, however, 12-to-15 more pitches from Porcello last night might have been a good start.
I feel badly for J.D. Martinez. His big moment was quickly doused with a bucket of smelly water. When he pointed to the heavens (a'la Phil Coke but on offense) at the ball soaring into the air, it could have been a signature moment to the season. Instead, it's a minor footnote.
The good news? Chicago's Conor Gillaspie laced a triple into the gap against the Royals' mostly untouchable Wade Davis to clear the loaded bags, putting the White Sox up, 7–5. The University of Michigan's Zach Putnam was able to finish the job unlike Jake Petricka the night before, and the Royals dropped a game as well. They get to face Chris Sale today to boot. It was some small salve for Tigers fans to apply to the gaping wound caused by Carrera's Flop.
That moment won't go down in baseball lore like "Merkle's Boner," but if the rest of this season goes poorly, there is no doubt that "Carrera's Flop" will be bandied about for years. The name "Alfredo Figaro" still rankles many after all, much like "Denny Galehouse" makes Boston fans upset over 60 years later. Baseball fans remember these moments for decades.
Go get 'em tonight, Mr. Price. Winning cures many ills.