Game 22: Tigers offense goes on Holaday
Where on earth, you ask, do the Tigers get the inspiration for a ninth-inning, two-out squeeze bunt in a tie game from the backup catcher?
Look to the eighth-inning, one-out bunt single Bryan Holaday laid down 10 days earlier against the Angels at Comerica Park. That one came with nobody out, but it set up an insurance run.
“He did that on his own,” manager Brad Ausmus said at the time. “He had told me prior to the at-bat that if the third baseman was back, he was thinking about bunting for a hit. I didn’t have a problem with it.”
Said Holaday: “I gave myself the first pitch, and I took a pretty ugly swing at a slider. So I figured, ‘Hey, the third baseman’s back. Might as well take advantage of it and try to drop one down.’ And it worked out.”
Less than two weeks later, as Holaday stepped to the plate against Ronald Belisario and his mid-90s sinker, he had Austin Jackson on third base with two outs in a 3-3 game. He had much the same idea.
“I was just focusing on the third baseman, seeing what he was doing,” Holaday said. “I noticed he was starting in and then backed up. That’s when I thought I had a good chance to lay it down.”
That third baseman was Marcus Semien, who had tried unsuccessfully to lay down a squeeze bunt on Justin Verlander with one out in the seventh. Verlander, however, had picked it up and given Semien a high pitch he couldn’t get down and keep fair.
“When I saw him turn around and square, I didn’t want to give him an easy pitch to bunt,” Verlander told reporters, including MLB.com’s Phil Rogers. “I just sort of flailed it, a slider. … I thought it might be a squeeze. I didn’t want to give them an easy run there, so I just sort of threw it up and in.”
Belisario, however, had not picked it up when Holaday bunted. Why would he? He’s the backup catcher, right?
Well, the Tigers were trying to give him the sign.
“I don’t know if he got it,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I gave it to Dave Clark and I think Clarky tried to give him a sign and Gene Lamont and I were kind of yelling at him at the bench in code to look at him, but I don’t know if he heard us or saw Clarky or just saw it on his own and took advantage.”
Don’t ask how a manager and coaches yell to a hitter in a code that doesn’t make the other team suspicious something might be on. It can’t be that easy, because Holaday said he didn’t hear it. He was bunting on his own.
“As soon as he laid it down, I thought it was a great play, especially the way he’d been throwing the ball,” Verlander said. “Belisario had been obviously making some really good hitters look silly up there, and I think Holly understood the situation and knew it was going to be an extremely tough at-bat.
“I think it was a really heads-up play. If I was pitching, I’d have been [ticked], but that was heads-up and smart and won us a ballgame.”
Said Holaday: “I know [Belisario] is probably [ticked] off, but it’s part of the game, and I did whatever I could to help the team win.”
For what it’s worth, a Tigers catcher with multiple bunt singles in a season isn’t as rare as you’d think. Gerald Laird had three of them in 2012.