TORONTO — While Javier Báez threw his arms in the air in frustration, realizing he had lost track of outs while running the bases, A.J. Hinch sat frozen on the dugout railing.
It couldn’t have been worse timing for a struggling Báez, who was pulled from the game an inning later. It might have been the right timing for the Tigers, whose 3-1 win salvaged a victory out of their three-game series against the Blue Jays. It might have been a wake-up call.
“It’s not even really all about Javy,” Hinch said. “If you look at the last couple series, we’ve made a number of mental mistakes, and the one thing we can control is our preparedness and our readiness. Javy happened to be the runner that made the big mistake where I made the move, but it’s a message to our whole team that we’ve got to clean that up.”
The Tigers picked up their veteran shortstop, running the bases aggressively and scoring three runs after the miscue.
“Honestly, everyone has brain farts. He just happened to have two in a matter of five minutes,” said Spencer Torkelson, who doubled and scored in the eighth. “We’re not mad at him. We care, but it happens. It shows you that it doesn’t matter what your name is, that you will get disciplined.”
The Tigers made several baserunning miscues this series, including Matt Vierling thrown out at second base without a slide in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss. Eric Haase was retired in that same inning trying to advance from second to third on a ground ball to short. But Báez’s error was glaring, not just because it ended a scoring threat, but because it came from a veteran.
“I don’t want to embarrass anybody,” Hinch said. “I don’t want to lessen our bench. I don’t want to take out one of our starters. He’s a premium player. But I also don’t want to see a team make mental mistakes.”
Báez reached base on a one-out double. He got a late break out of the box to watch the ball but said he didn’t think he’d homered.
“I was just so focused to hit the ball, and I hit it good,” Báez said. “I took my time out of the box. I got to second, but I really took my time out of the box because I was just so focused on hitting the ball.”
Four pitches later, Akil Baddoo hit a fly ball to center that sent Báez rounding third as if there were two outs. But there was one, which Báez realized when center fielder Daulton Varsho threw to second to complete the double play.
“My mind is everywhere right now,” Báez said. “I’m just trying to focus on my hitting and my timing and all this stuff. The only reason I lost the count of the outs, it was because I was hitting sixth [in the batting order]. I thought I was the third batter in that inning. That’s the only reason.
“Obviously, we’ve got to show respect to the game. He took the decision, and I respect it. He’s the manager, and we’ve got to respect what he does.”
Báez played shortstop for the bottom of the inning. When the Tigers returned to the dugout for the top of the third, Hinch and Báez walked down the dugout tunnel. Both came back a minute later, but Báez untucked his jersey, grabbed his glove and walked back down. Jonathan Schoop entered at third base for the bottom of the third, and Nick Maton shifted from third to short.
The shortstop was pulled under similar circumstances in June 2021 by Cubs manager David Ross. Báez ran from first to third on a flyout with one out in an eventual 4-0 Chicago loss. He took responsibility afterward and said he respected Ross’ decision.
Báez was batting .229 with a .732 OPS at the time. He started the next day and remained an everyday fixture in the Cubs’ lineup until he was traded to the Mets in July. He batted .297 with an .883 OPS from that benching to the end of the season.
This season, Báez entered Thursday 4-for-40 with three walks and eight strikeouts. He’ll be back in Detroit’s lineup on Friday.
“Anybody can make a mistake, but at this point, the way we’re playing and the way I’m playing, it’s obviously going to be worse,” Báez said. “If I’m hot and I have seven homers and I made that same mistake, I would’ve stayed in the game. I’ve got no excuses.”