DETROIT — It was the at-bat that could’ve altered the course of the game. Andrew Romine had a golden opportunity to capitalize on Victor Martinez’s grand slam, with the bases loaded for the second time in the same inning. He’d cooled off in the last three games, but before that he’d been red-hot in September. Instead, he chose to bunt at a time when there’s no room for error.
Romine also chose not to speak with the media afterwards, and manager Brad Ausmus wouldn’t say whether he agreed with the decision.
“It was on his own,” Ausmus said. “You'd have to ask him what he was thinking — I haven't talked to him. He definitely did not get a missed sign.”
There was no miscommunication. The only fault being Romine’s choice for bunting when he could’ve done some damage. At the very least, he would’ve given the Tigers a better chance than what resulted from the failed bunt attempt.
It wasn’t just that there was supposed miscommunication, the bunt was an awful one, too. Romine didn’t bunt for a hit out of the reach of the infielders, nor did he alert J.D. Martinez he was going to attempt a bunt — one that he had no chance to prep for in case it didn’t go well.
The result was Martinez charging for home when he had no chance to score. There was no room for error and nowhere else to go after he’d broken for home. Since Romine wouldn’t give a response for his decision after the game, his reasoning for the bunt will go unanswered, long after the game has been decided.
There’s no guarantee swinging for a pitch would’ve produced a more favorable result. Romine’s decision wasn’t the only glaring error in the game. The Tigers were at a disadvantage from the first pitch of the game and the vast majority of the blame rests with the pitching staff.
“It was a combination of mechanics and missing locations,” Matt Boyd said. “I left five pitches up and they all got hit. I know exactly what I have to do, which is why I feel like I really let all of these guys down.”
Only Blaine Hardy and Jordan Zimmermann lived up to the billing — the latter, surprisingly so. Even so, there have been far too many mistakes and missed opportunities with the offense of late. From the 14 runners left on-base on Saturday — which included two bases-loaded chances — to the same on Sunday in the sixth, to the game-ending flyout by Miguel Cabrera with runners on the corners.
Seven games remain, and the Tigers cannot afford mistakes like this right now. Nor can their pitching staff fail them with a week go to. Matt Boyd has been strong in his last 12 starts, limiting opposing teams to two-or-less runs in seven of those starts. Only once did he allow more than three runs — a seven-run stinker on Sept. 13 in 3 2⁄3 innings. Sunday was his shortest start ever, though, and one for the record books.
“I don't know what it was — he wasn't out there very long,” Ausmus said. “It might have been mechanical or it might have been an off day. He's a young pitcher at this time of year, which could be a factor, but I don't think the situation got to him. If this was June, I might have let him work through it, but we can't do that right now.”
That the Tigers are still in the fight with three youngsters in the starting rotation is nothing short of miraculous. They’ve done what the bigger names on the team failed to do, and for much of the year they’ve prospered.
But being young as they are, there have been growing pains, and in the thick of a pennant race that’s costly. If by some fortune the Tigers do finish the season with their grasp on the second Wild Card, it will be quite the accomplishment. Done so against all odds and with an offense that has been wildly unpredictable.
Romine’s error wasn’t the worst of the season, but in some ways it’s a microcosm of the team thus far. The Tigers have fought for comebacks throughout the year, but roadblocks such as injuries and in-game mistakes continue to prevent them from getting ahead — and often, just when it's right in front of them for the taking.
What hasn’t been decided is whether the Tigers can do enough in the last week to push past their issues and get into the postseason. Sunday’s game may be a loss, but the season isn’t over just yet, and the team hasn’t come close to giving up.
“We're still in this, and this is going to be a hell of a week when we pull it off,” Boyd said with confidence. “Did you see the way these guys fought after I put them in a hole? Do you think they are going to stop fighting now?”