ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The circus left town this afternoon.
And at the end of the Tigers’ three-day stay at Tropicana Field, when their defense showed how not to play defense, manager Brad Ausmus didn’t like what he had witnessed — players at times distracted by fans in the mostly empty dome, tricked by the newly installed synthetic field turf and those who ran into each other on routine pop-ups.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Ausmus said. “This is the worst defensive series I’ve seen the Detroit Tigers play since I’ve been here. It will stop. I think part of it was attributed to the roof, but it was awful, it cost us pitches, it cost us runs and it cost us games.”
The last of those games, Thursday's lopsided 8-1 loss to the Rays , began just like the previous night’s, starting with the first fly ball of the game, which Tyler Collins misplayed down the rightfield line for a double.
The Rays quickly nullified Ian Kinsler’s lead-off home run with a run against lefty Daniel Norris in the bottom of the first inning and allowed the Tigers only four more hits the rest of the way. They were swept in ugly fashion: They did not pitch particularly well, did not play defense well at all and their offense was hushed in two of three games.
“The defense killed us this series,” Ausmus said. “Quite frankly, it’s gotta get better. If it doesn’t get better, there will be changes.”
And for good measure, he reiterated: “It was the worst defensive series I’ve seen the Detroit Tigers play since I’ve been here.”
The defensive follies didn’t stop with Collins’ misplay in the first inning. Dixon Machado – playing for the injured Jose Iglesias – immediately followed with an errant throw.
Collins’ day in rightfield didn’t get much better. In the second inning, he allowed a single to bounce over his head, resulting in a triple and two more runs.
“The only thing you’re going to get out of me is ‘No excuses,’ ” Collins said. “No excuses.”
After the triple, Kevin Kiermaier hit an RBI single to put the Tigers in a 4-1 hole they never came close to climbing out of.
Norris was the victim, who showed good stuff early but admittedly tried too hard to overcome the defensive miscues. He was out of the game in the fifth inning.
In that final frame, for the Tigers’ final defensive disappointment of the series, he too eagerly raced off the mound to chase a pop-up in foul territory. Instead of an easy catch for first baseman Alex Avila, the ball fell to the turf.
“When I glanced down, I didn’t see Alex and I started calling it and next thing you know, we’re both kind of falling back,” Norris said. “It was kind of one of those wonky plays, I guess.”
Norris threw 4 2/3 innings, allowing five runs – four earned – on eight hits. He struck out two and walked four. He threw 101 pitches.
“At the end of the day, I gotta pick my teammates up,” Norris said. “I think I was just trying too hard to make pitches to kind of pick them up on those plays and ultimately, it led to a higher pitch count.”
Warwick Saupold – who was shuttled back to Triple-A Toledo after the game – pitched 3 1/3 innings of relief, allowing three solo home runs.
The lone bright spot was Kinsler’s lead-off home run.
It was his 41st career lead-off home run, tied for seventh-most in baseball history since 1913, according to the team. He is one lead-off home run behind former Tiger Curtis Granderson.
But that bright spot was quickly clouded by another poor performance from a team that looked like it was trying its hardest to get out of Tropicana and onto a flight to Minneapolis. The Tigers and Twins begin a three-game series today.
“This is baseball,” Ausmus said. “This is what you go through. It’s a roller coaster ride all season. You feel great when you win two out of three in Cleveland, you come in here and you get swept by Tampa.
“So strap your seatbelts in. This is what baseball is all about.”
Detroit Free Press