The stage was set. Ninth inning, man on first, Detroit trailing the bottom-feeding Atlanta Braves 1-0, Justin Upton at the plate with two strikes. One swing of the bat could make the difference between winning and losing, and the Tigers season could depend on it.
Then came the pitch. A fastball right down the middle. And Justin Upton -- in the words of the late Ernie Harwell -- stood there like the house by the side of the road.
THWAP went the catcher's mitt. STRIKE THREE, roared the umpire.
And just like that, their season was done. They went out with a whimper, the sometimes mighty bats having fallen silent when they needed them the most.
So what did Justin Upton do?
This clown had the audacity to go back into his dugout and start trading high fives with teammates. At that point, Upton didn't deserve any "up top" action. What he needed was a "down low" scenario. Like a swift kick in the pants -- preferably from the front.
After all the hoopla, there will be no playoffs for the Detroit Tigers. This is likely not what owner Mike Ilitch had in mind when he shelled out over $200 million in player salaries for this year.
Whether or not this spells a death knell for manager Brad Ausmus remains to be seen. But even if the brain trust, and I use that phrase loosely when it comes to the Tigers, decides to fire Ausmus, who can they get to replace him that would be any better? After all, he doesn't bat, pitch, field, or run the bases. The players do. And they weren't good enough this year.
But never fear, the usual gang of suspects were quick to point out the future looks rosy for the team.
Oh yeah? What team are THEY looking at?
Consider the Tigers.
They have two catchers, but neither would likely start for any other team.
Justin Verlander, their ace, is approaching the twilight of his career. The rest of the starting rotation is hit and miss.
The bullpen can be good at times, but pitch batting practice at others.
Nick Castellanos at third is no bargain. even when he can stay healthy, which appears to be not very often.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias is an injury waiting to happen.
Second sacker Ian Kinsler is aging.
Right fielder J.D. Martinez is either very hot or stone cold.
Victor (Methuselah) Martinez is so slow he can turn a triple into a long single. Plus he can't play a position.
Not counting Miguel Cabrera, most of the other Tigers are a mixed bag at best. Their farm system has been decimated by trading away potential future talent in the "win now" mode. And they haven't won. Not even close. Last year, the Tigers finished in the basement of their own division, and they failed to make the playoffs this year.
There's absolutely no reason to think they'll be any better in 2017. So just where is this "bright future" the "homers" are talking about?
Being already eliminated, the Tigers don't even have to play the 162nd game of the regular season -- a make-up game against the Cleveland Indians. And they have nobody to blame but themselves.
All they had to do was handle the lowly Atlanta Braves. Instead, they dropped two out of three. Outta here.
And that's the thing. Had they taken care of business against Atlanta, potentially making Game 162 a "play-in" game for the post-season -- they would have been in good shape against the Indians.
Wait, you say? The Tribe has pretty much clobbered them all year? True enough. But if that game had to be played, Cleveland wasn't going to go all-out to win it. They had clinched their own playoff spot long ago. Chances are, Cleveland would have fielded a squad of B-teamers just to get the game over with. With a patchwork pitching staff trying to get by. At that point, Cleveland would have been far more concerned with setting up their pitching rotation for the playoffs and giving their better players -- and bullpen -- an extra day's rest. It was a game the Tigers had a terrific chance of winning.
But we'll never know.
Because Upton is still out, and the Tigers season is still over.
It wasn't supposed to be like this....