DETROIT — The tables turned on J.D. Martinez in the eighth inning of Sunday’s 3-1 loss after he played the hero the night before. But the baserunning blunder wasn’t as a result of a poor read on his part or Justin Upton, who was behind him attempting to reach third base. The miscue came as a result of the wrong signal given by third base coach Dave Clark.
It had taken the Tigers 6 2/3 innings to get to Jacob deGrom, who had been lights-out all day. Upton’s single with one out in the seventh had come around to score on Ian Kinsler’s pinch-hit single after Andrew Romine’s swinging bunt single knocked deGrom from the game.
In a 1-1 tie, Martinez doubled with two outs, the Tigers’ first extra-base hit of the day. Upton, who had walked and singled earlier in the game, was intentionally walked by Addison Reed to put two aboard. Casey McGehee, who’d just been recalled to play third with Nick Castellanos on the disabled list for a broken hand, stepped to the plate.
McGehee hit a 1-0 slider that bounced to, and then off the Mets first baseman James Loney and leaked into right field — and just under second baseman Neil Walker’s glove. The ball died, and on first glance it appeared the Tigers were positioned to take the lead and then some. But that’s not what happened.
“That's just a tough play,” J.D. Martinez said after the game. “When the ball is hit, I'm thinking about scoring all the way, but I'm looking at (third base coach Dave Clark) Clarkie, and he signals me to stop, so I'm slowing way down and trying to pick up the ball.
“I figured Loney or Walker must have it, but they are both on the ground, and I don't know where it is or what's going on.”
Martinez couldn’t pick up the ball on his own, and by that point Clark was waving him home. Only, Martinez was turned to the outfield in an attempt to judge whether to break for home or not. Upton was watching Clark and saw the signal to go for home.
By the time Martinez picked up the ball, right fielder Curtis Granderson had picked up the ball and Upton was stuck between second and third base.
Because Martinez had put on the brakes completely, he couldn’t attempt to score anymore. But with Upton attempting to get to third and the ball headed back to the infield, the Tigers were caught in an impossible situation.
Martinez still tried to distract the Mets from tagging Upton out, serving himself up as a target on the off chance that Upton could get back to second in time and allow himself the opportunity to make it back to third.
Granderson didn’t relay the throw to the infield, though. Not at first. He ran to the infield and it appeared he might tag Martinez himself before tossing to catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who then tossed it to third baseman Kelly Johnson. With nowhere to run, the attempt was dead and Martinez was tagged out by Johnson halfway to home in a last-ditch dash for the plate.
As a result, the Tigers went into the top of the ninth tied 1-1 instead in the lead. With a two-run homer by Walker off Francisco Rodriguez, the Tigers never regained the lead. Martinez may have been the victim of that inning, but it was Clark who initially sent the wrong signal and sank Detroit’s chances in the eighth.
“How often is a ground ball going to get through two major league infielders like that?” Martinez said. “There's really nothing you can do — it is just one of those things that happens.”