Growing pain: Tigers lose helmet, mitt, game

September 23rd, 2020

stood on second base in the fifth inning Tuesday feeling like he could’ve been on cloud nine. His 406-foot double to center wasn’t hard or high enough for his first Major League home run, but it was just enough to not be another Byron Buxton highlight catch.

“I'm not gonna lie, I thought he had a chance at first,” Cameron said after the 5-4 Tigers loss to the Twins in 10 innings at Target Field. “When it landed on the wall and bounced back off, I was like, 'OK, good, he didn't catch it.' I got to second and I was like, 'Wow, I hit a line drive over Buxton's head.'”

Two pitches and a single later, Cameron wound up in a defensive highlight anyway. Third-base coach Ramon Santiago challenged strong-armed Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario, but Cameron’s bobbing helmet left him stumbling and struggling to see as Rosario threw him out at the plate.

“I have the right size, but it’s still big enough to where it falls off or falls back every time I run,” Cameron said. "I definitely need to get a new helmet. When I got around third, I tried to bob it off because I could feel it just shaking off my head. Rosario threw me out and I just smiled like, ‘Man, my helmet is just bobbing everywhere every time I run.”

The image might well be a snapshot of these Tigers as they head down the stretch of what is now their fourth consecutive losing season, clinched by Tuesday’s loss. Their young talent provides glimpses of a brighter future, from Cameron’s two doubles to starter ’s six strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings to ’ diving ninth-inning stop to ’s back-to-back strikeouts in the 10th inning with the eventual game-ending run on base.

And then come the reminders that they’re still a young team trying to find their way, capped by Max Kepler’s walkoff bloop single.

Though it feels like months ago, the Tigers were over .500 as recently as three weeks ago, riding a six-game winning streak into the American League playoff race. They’ve lost 15 of 20 since then amid a procession of injuries from ’ broken left hand to ’s sprained right wrist. The Tigers placed Schoop on the 45-day injured list Tuesday, officially ending his season.

Detroit lost its manager on Saturday, when Ron Gardenhire cited health issues for his decision to retire. But interim manager Lloyd McClendon made clear Tuesday they’re still playing to win games, from his decision to pull Skubal with the bases loaded in the fourth to pinch-hitting in the 10th inning. Even Santiago’s decision to wave Cameron home in the fifth -- loose helmet and all -- was a move he liked.

“We were sending him with two outs and hoping that something good happened,” McClendon said. “It’s going to happen from time to time, and the first person I went to was Santi, and I told him, ‘Great move.’ You have to be aggressive in that situation. [Rosario] could’ve thrown the ball away. Catcher could’ve dropped it.”

Cameron wasn’t the only rookie with equipment issues. Skubal took the mound wearing teammate ’s glove, with the names of Boyd’s children stitched into it, because Skubal’s glove was back in Detroit.

“I showed up at the field today, and I was just looking in my locker, and I was like, ‘Something’s missing.’ I couldn’t really figure out what it was. It was two gloves that I forgot to bring. Right then, I was like, ‘Oh no, that’s not the right thing here.’ Luckily, Boyd was like, ‘Yeah, you can use this glove.’”

Boyd might have been less enthusiastic at head athletic trainer Doug Teter adjusting the glove after the first inning. But Skubal recovered from Buxton’s leadoff homer to hold down Minnesota’s Bomba Squad. Mitch Garver’s homer nearly sparked a bigger fourth inning but McClendon went to setup reliever with Skubal at 78 pitches.

“The traditional way of thinking about how you use your bullpen is gone,” McClendon said. “You have to manage inning by inning, and what inning is most important to try to keep you in a ballgame.”

McClendon is playing to win in what is potentially an audition for the full-time managerial job. At the same time, he’s leading a group of kids that represent the Tigers’ future. He very nearly won with them Tuesday.

“There are growing pains that are going to happen with this club,” McClendon said. “We have to learn from them. We have to talk about it, correct it and get better.”