Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Tigers News

After 12, Tigers trump Rays ... on walk-off bunt

Jones' leadoff triple sets up Hicks to squeeze in final run
May 2, 2018

DETROIT -- The deciding run reached on a 383-foot triple to the depths of Comerica Park. It scored on a 60-foot bunt down the first-base line, laid down by a backup catcher, that sent the first baseman and pitcher colliding to field it.That was Gardy Ball, the kind of play

DETROIT -- The deciding run reached on a 383-foot triple to the depths of Comerica Park. It scored on a 60-foot bunt down the first-base line, laid down by a backup catcher, that sent the first baseman and pitcher colliding to field it.
That was Gardy Ball, the kind of play Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire used with the Twins to torment teams like the Tigers. On Wednesday, it worked in Detroit's favor, a walk-off squeeze bunt in the 12th inning to send the Tigers to a 3-2 win over the previously red-hot Rays at Comerica Park. Only it wasn't Gardenhire's call to put down a bunt.
"I didn't expect it any more than anybody else in the ballpark," said Gardenhire, of John Hicks' bunt. "I thought he was going to drive a ball in the gap. You know what? I'm happy. I wish I could've said I put a squeeze on. I would have loved to have been able to tell you that."
There was no sneaky sign, no automatic read with the winning run on third and nobody out. That was all Hicks. While the Rays met at the mound to figure out how they were going to play Hicks, he figured out how he was going to play them.
"Really, with JaCoby [Jones] at third, all I had to do was get it down," Hicks said. "And they were playing the shift, too, so Miller had to field it. And I knew that JaCoby would beat it."

Priot to Wednesday, Hicks had just one sacrifice bunt in his Major League career. That one was called, a decision by then-Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon with a rookie backup catcher who was 1-for-17 in his Major League career at the time, playing in his seventh big league game.
That one worked, too, but it was an add-on run to build a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning. This was a little higher-pressure.
So while the Rays met at the mound, Hicks went back to the on-deck circle and bounced his idea off of teammate James McCann.
"I went over to Mac," Hicks said, "and I said, 'I'm gonna bunt. I'm gonna bunt to first. JaCoby will score easily.' And Mac was like, 'Really?'"
McCann smiled recalling the conversation.
"He did," McCann said. "He walked right over to me and said, 'I'm gonna bunt this thing right at the first baseman. And I was like, 'That's a good idea.' He was playing over in the 3-4 hole, a little bit back."

The toughest part of a squeeze bunt, former manager Jim Leyland used to say, was the time between putting the sign on and waiting for the pitch, paranoid that the defense might sniff it out. In this case, both the manager and the opponent were oblivious as Matt Andriese delivered to the plate.
Until Hicks squared to bunt, Jones had no idea, either.
"I thought he was going to swing it," Jones said. "When I saw the bunt down, it surprised the crap out of me. It surprised me so much. Once I saw it down, I was like, just run home as fast as I can and make something happen."
Jones was thrown out earlier in the game trying to tag up on a fly ball to medium-depth center field. In this case, his speed paid off. Even if first baseman Brad Miller had fielded it cleanly, Jones had a throw beat. Instead, the bunt Hicks laid down rolled along the first-base line as Miller and Andriese charged into each other.
"He bunted, and I can't tell you exactly what I said," Gardenhire said. "But we won the game, and it was a big game. We talked about making plays, and he made a play, and that was really cool."
Fulmer limits early damage: Though Michael Fulmer and Blake Snell dueled to no-decisions in a battle of promising young starters, Fulmer overcame early trouble to match the Rays' gifted young lefty, having allowed three hits, two walks and a hit batter his first trip through the order. Fulmer threw 32 pitches in the first inning, but stranded the bases loaded when Hicks -- playing first base in place of an injured Jose Cabrera -- fielded a Joey Wendle grounder, stepped on first and fired home for the unconventional double play.
Dixon Machado shows hang time: The Rays had the potential go-ahead run on second base with two outs in the eighth inning for Carlos Gomez, who thought he had a chance at an RBI with a soft line drive headed toward center. Second baseman Machado had other ideas though, leaping to make a highlight grab. Statcast™ gave the ball a 61-percent hit probability.

The Tigers begin a seven-game road trip with a Thursday matinee in Kansas City, where Mike Fiers (2-2, 3.91) takes the mound in a 2:15 p.m. ET start opposite Royals lefty Eric Skoglund (1-2, 6.23). Detroit hopes to have Cabrera back in the lineup after three games out following a biceps spasm.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.