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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Surprised to get bunt sign, Torii Hunter can't lay down key sacrifice

It was not a sign that Torii Hunter had seen too many times in his 17 big league seasons.

Sacrifice bunt.

Come again?

It was not something to Hunter expected to see in the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday’s series finale against the Cleveland Indians, even though it wasn’t completely out of the blue, given the situation.

With the Tigers’ closer, Jose Valverde, having just blown his first save of the season, leaving the game tied, 3-3, Hunter came to the plate after Andy Dirks singled to lead off the frame. Even worse than the unfamiliar role, the new Tigers outfielder was facing sidearming Indians reliever Joe Smith, making it even more uncomfortable.

“No. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I hadn’t sacrifice bunted in — I don’t know if you guys looked at it, but it might have been about 10 years,” said Hunter, who’s been credited with three sacrifice hits in 17 seasons and 8,039 plate appearances — once each in 1999 and 2001, and once last year. “Then a guy that doesn’t throw the ball right — he’s underhand. So it’s tough.

“But I gotta do my job, I GOTTA do my job. I gotta get that guy over. Anything can happen if you get him over into scoring position.

“I didn’t do my job, and that’s the reason we’re sitting here, thinking about that loss.”

The Tigers failed to score in the inning, and went on to lose, 4-3, in 10 innings.

Hunter tried to get the bunt on the ground, but couldn’t.

After a first-pitch ball from Smith, he fouled off two bunt attempts, putting him in a 1-ball, 2-strike hole. After another ball, Hunter compounded the problem by hitting into a double play.

Smith snared his comebacker, then turned and threw to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera at the second-base bag to get the force on Dirks. Cabrera, who’d had to reach back for Smith’s throw, was able to relay the throw to first for the double play.

“I’d much rather strike out right there. I was trying to get him over, and I should’ve just swung for the fences or strike out. Keep the inning alive. Double plays are killers, and that’s what I’ve been trying to stay away from,” Hunter said.

“There’s a lot of points in the game we didn’t come through. It’s not one thing, it’s always many.”

Was there any thought to letting Hunter, who obviously isn’t a bunting wizard, swing away?

“No, I did not give any thought to letting him swing away,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He just did not get it down. That happens.”

Once the sign was relayed from Leyland to third-base coach Tom Brookens, and on, then it’s on Hunter to execute. He knew that.

“Yeah, I gotta do my job, no matter if throws underhand, or it’s sinking, or I haven’t bunted in 10 years. DO YOUR FREAKIN’ JOB. And I didn’t do it,” Hunter said. “I’m here to win, so trust me, it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying. I was definitely trying.”


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