DETROIT — The old saying is defense wins championships. If that’s the case, the Tigers are probably not going to need any champagne.
The box score from Thursday afternoon’s 12-4 loss to the Oakland A’s shows that the Tigers made one error, Omar Infante’s off-target throw in the third inning that allowed a run to score.
“I think Omar’s play, he just didn’t set his feet and make the throw,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I think he could have done that. That was kind of a fundamental play.”
Infante now has nine errors in 49 games with the Tigers after committing just eight in 82 games at second base with the Miami Marlins.
But the Tigers also ran into trouble in the sixth inning, trouble that doesn’t show up as errors in the box score.
After Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes singled, Brandon Moss hit a double to right field. Right fielder Avisail Garcia threw the ball in quickly, but missed the cutoff man, and Cespedes scored easily to tie the game at 3.
“We were set up for the relay on the one play and that was one of those in-between ones where you might be able to throw to second and get the guy or try to stop the guy from scoring,” Leyland said. “It was just one of those plays that happens once in a while and it happened.”
Then an even weirder thing happened. With two out and two on, A’s catcher George Kottaras hit a line drive to center field that Austin Jackson appeared poised to catch. But the ball did something funny and bounced off of Jackson’s glove into deep center field. The play was ruled a triple.
That gave the A’s a 6-3 lead and they never looked back.
“You can tell, Austin looked like he was zeroed in right to catch it, then all of a sudden it was gone,” Leyland said. “That’s just one of those freak balls that happens now and then.”
Jackson, one of the few Tigers considered to be an above-average defender, said the ball acted almost like a knuckleball.
“I went where I thought it was going to be, and it started drifting, took off to the left,” Jackson said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a ball hit to me that has ever done anything like that. You get that in BP, but never really too much in the game.”
The Tigers are in the middle of the pack when it comes to team fielding percentage, tied with Boston, Kansas City, Baltimore, Oakland and Minnesota at .983.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta, whose 75-game errorless streak ended Wednesday, said it’s not just the errors that matter, it’s when they occur.
“I mean, you know, we make an error, like every other team, but the error that we make is when the game’s right there, you know?” Peralta said “That’s the problem, right there. The situation in the game, it’s real tough. We make error. A lot of teams make errors.
“In that situation, we need to make better play. Concentrate more, at that moment.”
The Tigers are at the top in terms of grounding into double plays, but they definitely lead in double plays not turned that should have been.
Leyland also correctly pointed out that the Tigers had chances to add on more runs early and failed to do so, but defense is something that needs to be addressed in the offseason.
Catcher Gerald Laird said he didn’t blame the defense for Thursday’s loss.
“We win and lose as a team,” Laird said. “It’s no one’s fault, but we just didn’t play a very good game today all around. That’s the bottom line.”
The other bottom line is Leyland, Laird and the rest of the Tigers will be watching the White Sox-Royals game closely Thursday night. Until the Minnesota Twins get to town Friday, that’s all they can do.
“Our game is over, we lost, but we need help,” Laird said. “Obviously, I’ll be at home watching the (Royals) game and hopefully they can get the job done and keep us within two games.
“This is an important time because when you lose games, it’s getting narrower and narrower and the chances of getting there are slimmer and slimmer. Kansas City has been playing good baseball. They’ve been playing tough at home and hopefully they can come in tonight and get a win and keep us to two games.”