By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT - Heading into the seventh inning Tuesday, the Detroit Tigers led the Oakland Athletics, 3-0, and they looked poised to break a four-game losing streak with a series-opening victory at Comerica Park.
Instead, the Tigers unraveled and eventually lost, 5-3, thanks in part to a series of defensive blunders that looked out of place for a team that since last season has improved so much in that area.
After the game, the clubhouse was quiet, the only signs of past merriment the "Dreamy" Brad Ausmus shirts some of the players wore as they got ready to leave for the night as a few of their teammates answered for various miscues that contributed to the team's fifth straight loss.
Before falling to Oakland on Tuesday, the Tigers had lost four in a row against the Los Angeles Angels. Manager Brad Ausmus indicated the loss to the A's produced even more severe aggravation than the recent sweep.
"Anaheim was a slap in the face," Ausmus said. "This was a punch in the gut."
The trouble for the Tigers started in the seventh inning. With one out and Brett Lawrie on second base, Marcus Semien made contact, and Lawrie took off toward third. Thanks to a remarkable snag and toss by shortstop Jose Iglesias, third baseman Nick Castellanos had a chance to tag Semien for the out.
Instead, Castellanos fumbled the catch, and so the A's had runners at first and third.
On the next play, veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler - the team's best defender after Iglesias - made an impressive grab on a ground ball but decided to throw home instead of going to first base. The problem was that Lawrie did not go home.
The official scoring of the play was a fielder's choice that left the bases loaded. After Simon gave up a hit to the next batter and a run scored, the Tigers replaced him with Angel Nesbitt.
Ben Zobrist smacked the second pitch from Nesbitt over the fence, and the grand slam turned a 3-1 Detroit lead into a 5-3 Oakland lead.
Both Castellanos and Kinsler explained their miscues after the game.
"I had to pick up a tough hop and turn towards the outfield," Kinsler said, "and my first look was at second base to see if I could get an out there, and I couldn't, and as I was continuing to move to throw the ball to first, I saw him take three hard steps [off third], and I just reacted to the play."
Ausmus essentially concurred with Kinsler's description of the action, though he noted Kinsler would probably take that play back if he could.
"When he looked up, he thought the guy was in no man's land and he could get him at home," Ausmus said. "I think if he could do it over again he'd probably just take the out, but it was an instinctual reaction."
Ausmus termed the play Castellanos did not make as a tough one, but Castellanos took responsibility for not making the out.
"I just couldn't handle it," Castellanos said. "Trying to figure out where he was going to come into the bag and get the ball, could I have made the play? Absolutely. But I didn't.
"It's kind of a feel thing because you've got to worry about this guy coming in, and you've got to try to pick it - either go get it or try to wait for it to come get to you," Castellanos continued. "You don't really know exactly, so I decided to try to just get it and go. Lawrie's notorious for coming into bags pretty hard, so I didn't think I was going to have enough time to go get it and then come back and tag, so I decided to just wait there and try to get it and put a tag on quick."
The Tigers are clearly in a funk, but they are still optimistic they will eventually claw their way out of it. Two of the team's everyday players, catcher Alex Avila and designated hitter Victor Martinez, are currently on the disabled list, as are starting pitcher Justin Verlander and reliever Bruce Rondon.
"You've got to keep grinding," Castellanos said. "That's all you can do. Like I said, it's our job as a team to, no matter what adversity we face, to figure out a way to overcome it, and I know we will. We weathered this storm last year. We're going to do it again.
"This is the same team that everybody was praising big-time when we were 11-2 or something like that," Castellanos continued. "Nothing's changed. Ver had a great start in Triple A, he's going to come back, and we're going to be firing on all cylinders when we need to."
for more features.