DETROIT -- David Price pitched an outstanding game for the Detroit Tigers against the Minnesota Twins. Former Tiger Torii Hunter admitted as much. Being in Detroit on Opening Day was awesome, so much so that Hunter didn't hear his name called during the opening ceremonies because he was dancing. The only downer in the day was when home plate umpire Joe West got the final call of the game wrong. At least, that's how Hunter sees it.
In some cases, it's a matter of opinion. Whether Hunter checked his swing in time depends on who you ask. According to the former-Tiger-turned-Twin-again, Hunter checked his swing in time. According to West, Hunter didn't, and West called Hunter out on strikes, ending the Tigers' home opener, giving Detroit a 4-0 win.
"I thought he swung, so I said he swung," West said. "They're all great players, and any time you get called out at the end of the game on something like that, they're going to be upset, so I understand that."
The Tigers come out as the beneficiaries, but it's still a lose-lose situation from every other perspective. West is not required to refer to another umpire, and Hunter didn't ask for an appeal at first base. In his judgement, Hunter went, so West called the strikeout, ending the game. Thing is, when you have a 39-year-old slugger battling to keep a team in the game, it turns out that not asking for help on a call at a critical moment in the game doesn't sit so well.
"That's it, that's all you have to do, check," Hunter said. "That's part of the game. I'm battling my butt off (against) one of the best closers of our time, just trying to get something going. And he just took the bat right out of my hands. It's a big situation for us. I hate that he did that, I don't know why he did it. I have no idea why he didn't check. He just walked off, so obviously he knew he was wrong. If I'm going going to get fined for saying this -- Joe West was wrong."
Price had gone eight strong innings, and with 15 pitches to spare before he would hit 100 pitches, it looked like Price would get a Maddux (a complete game with 100-or-less pitches). Six pitches were needed to get the Twins' pinch hitter Eduardo Escobar out, and Price's pitch count stood at 96 by the time the second hitter was retired. With two out, Brian Dozier hit a single line drive to center field, prompting a meeting on the mound with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who informed Price that Joe Mauer, the next batter, would be Price's last.
Prior to the game, a pitch count of 100-105 was set for Price. And since the team had just come out of spring training, Ausmus didn't want Price caught in a situation that went well beyond his pitch count. So, when Mauer singled, putting two aboard -- also giving the Twins just their second scoring opportunity of the game -- Price came out of the game and Hunter was left to face the Tigers closer Joe Nathan.
Regardless of Nathan's struggles in the past, he was still the Twins' best closer while with Minnesota, and one of the best in the game for a long time. And at some point every hitter has that what if going through their minds when they face a guy like that. So, after battling through Price for nearly nine innings, all Hunter wanted was an explanation from West after he struck out on a checked swing in a 1-2 count, with two on and two out. He didn't get one.
"No, he gave me no explanation," Hunter said. "I think he had dinner reservations or a concert to play in, that was terrible. All I ask, everybody asks, we come out and do our job every day. That's what I do, I come ready to play, do my job, I battle at the plate. We ask you to do your job as well. And Joe West needs to do his job. And he didn't do it well."
Starting out at odds with an umpire with 161 games to go likely won't carry over through the whole season, but there's likely to be some frustration and maybe a little bitterness. In Businessweek's Umpire Ranking, among 50 umpires with at least 2,500 ball-strike calls, West ranked dead last in 2014. Whether Hunter went or not may be up for debate for the forseeable future. But Hunter wouldn't be the first to have a beef with West, especially when the umpire has a history of making questionable calls in the past.
But for all the negativity surrounding the call in the first game of the regular season, Hunter had nothing but good things to say about his former teammate. And as for the fans in right field? They were "awesome," and Hunter was happy to be back in Detroit.
"David Price was awesome," Hunter said. "One of the best lefties in the game, in and out, hard, soft, he had us off balance. Hitting his spots. He had control of the game, we couldn't do much with the pitches he was making."