DETROIT -- You had to send him. That much we can agree on.
When Prince Fielder approached third base Saturday night in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and his team down a run, Tigers third-base coach Tom Brookens had no choice but to wave him home. Force the Royals to make the play.
Where we are likely to disagree is whether Fielder should have been the runner in the first place.
I say yes.
Here's why: Because Jim Leyland said so.
Wait, let me rephrase that: Because Jim Leyland never pinch-runs for Fielder or Miguel Cabrera (when healthy), and he isn't going to start now. Also: Because Fielder is faster than you think -- he scored Wednesday night from second base when Omar Infante hit a single to leftfield.
And he scored easily.
Settle down, I'm not suggesting Fielder will show up in Rio wearing a track suit two years from now -- though for all I know he may be a fan of rowing, and might be there anyway. What I am suggesting is that he can score from first on a double. And would have had Kansas City not made a very good relay throw and snag at the plate to get him.
"A terrific play," said Leyland, speaking of the one-hopper catcher Salvador Perez nabbed before wheeling to tag Fielder as he slid toward home.
It's easy to second-guess, I do it all the time, as in, "why did I invite so-and-so to my barbecue last week?" Second-guessing is particularly inviting when the game ends at the plate. That's part of the fun of baseball.
Yet managers operate with certain philosophies. This is one of Leyland's: The big guys are going to stay in the game, as long as they are healthy, and reach first in the ninth with no outs.
Remember, when Fielder walked to open the ninth, he didn't need a double to score. Victor Martinez could have moved him to second with a groundout -- he hit a pop-up. Andy Dirks might have moved him to second, too.
Remove Fielder when he reaches base and not only do you take away his bat, but you take away Cabrera's, too, the next time he comes around, because the manager simply will order a walk with a pinch-runner in that slot.
As Leyland said Saturday night: "Everyone thinks that if you pinch-run the batter is going to automatically get a hit. It doesn't work that way."
He's right. It just looks bad when the hitter does get a hit.
It looks worse, however, when the Tigers don't hit, period. The reason we are debating at the moment (yes, I will cede that an argument can be made) is because Detroit couldn't manage a run -- they lost, 1-0.
The Royals have done this to the Tigers a few times this year. Their pitching is arguably the best in the American League.
The good news is that Kansas City isn't likely to make the playoffs, because the Tigers can't beat them. (Saturday's loss gave the Royals the season series, 10-8, with the last game to be played today).
The better news is that Cabrera hit the ball hard several times -- including a long fly in the sixth that missed clearing the fence by a few feet. He looked like himself again, extending the bat on the outer part of the plate. He even looked more nimble on the bases.
The slugger barely missed carrying his team to victory. Surely, he will get plenty of chances do to this in the playoffs, where the Tigers will face more pitching like Kansas City's.
That much we can agree on.
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