Leyland shows unorthodox side
Manager makes rare move in another great game vs. Twins
MINNEAPOLIS -- You haven't seen this managerial move too often. But after the way it worked out on Wednesday night, there's a chance that it might catch on.
With the game on the line, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland changed pitchers with a 1-2 count on a hitter. The move worked, but not until more drama developed.
This was the situation in another low-scoring, tightly contested game between the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins:
With the Tigers leading, 3-2, in the seventh, the Twins had mounted a threat against left-handed reliever Bobby Seay. Joe Mauer started the inning intelligently with a bunt single. Michael Cuddyer followed with a single and the runners stayed on first and second as Justin Morneau popped to short.
Mike Redmond pinch-hit for left-handed-hitting Jason Kubel. The count went to 1-2 on Redmond, but he hung in, fouling off pitches. At this point, Leyland sprang from the dugout, strode rapidly to the mound and made the change for right-hander Chad Durbin.
"It's a little unorthodox, but I'm glad I made it," Leyland said of the move. "It looked like Bobby just didn't have anything to finish him off with. So I thought, 'Why not?' I really don't care what people say, or what people think. I did what I thought gave us the best chance in that situation. I just didn't like the way that Redmond was still really aggressive even after he got two strikes on him. He was still ripping. I just thought: 'Hey, I'm going to bring [Durbin] in, right now.'"
The surprise move did not exactly pay immediate dividends. Durbin's first pitch struck Redmond on the hand and the bases were loaded. What was the feeling for the manager after the unorthodox move led to this?
"Not very good," Leyland said.
The circumstances for a full-fledged collapse were solidly in place. The 38,070 fans in the Metrodome were on their feet, sensing a moment that might turn the game and maybe even the season for the third-place Twins against the first-place Tigers.
And then the inning evaporated for the Twins. Durbin settled in. Jeff Cirillo fouled out to the catcher. Lew Ford flied out to center. End of inning, end of threat, end of endless chances to second-guess the manager for changing pitchers with a 1-2 count. The Tigers won, 3-2, and Jim Leyland, once again, looked like a very bright guy.
A combination of Durbin and Macay McBride got the Tigers through the eighth, aided by a sensational inning-ending catch by Marcus Thames on a sinking liner from Mauer. The outcome of that play was marred by the fact that Thames injured a hamstring in the process, but the brilliance of the play stood. Leyland was not uninvolved in the ninth, either. Todd Jones was eventually record his 25th save of the season, but this inning also didn't start particularly well for the Tigers. Jones appeared to have Cuddyer, leading off the inning, struck out on a borderline checked swing. But on the appeal, first-base umpire Phil Cuzzi thought differently. Cuddyer subsequently singled.
"We yelled from the dugout, I yelled too long, the umpire threw me out," Leyland reported. "I yelled from the dugout a couple of times and after he got the hit, we yelled a little louder. That magnifies it a little bit. To be honest with you, I don't know if it was right or wrong on my part, but if the guy had popped up I probably wouldn't have said anything else. ...
"I don't blame the umpire one bit for tossing me. But I don't blame me for arguing. I've got a team that's battling their butts off and in my opinion he definitely swung the bat."
The Tigers' victory retroactively drained the controversy out of that call, which was fine, because looking back, you could just focus on the baseball, which, for the second straight night, had been terrific. Every pitch had import, every play had weight, and new territory was being explored for managerial tactics.
At the end of the evening, the Tigers had won the three-game series. Whatever second-half surge the Twins might stage this season had just been successfully postponed.
And Jim Leyland had made a managerial move that was unusual, offbeat, unorthodox, and at the time maybe even seemed weird. But it was also a managerial move that turned out to be just plain right.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.