If only Jim Leyland hadn’t been so hands on

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Tigers manager Jim Leyland spent the first four months of this season with two reliable relievers: left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Joaquin Benoit. Obviously, that’s less than ideal. But it did give him fewer chances to mess things up.

And mess things up he did in the ALCS. With Jose Veras and Al Alburquerque at his disposal, Leyland turned Smyly into a matchup guy. In Saturday’s game, Smyly induced a possible double-play grounder from the only batter he faced, Jacoby Ellsbury. Unfortunately, the play was botched by Jose Iglesias, who should have at least gotten one out.

Smyly was pulled. Veras came on with the bases loaded and gave up a grand slam to Shane Victorino. The rest is history.

From a percentage standpoint, it wasn’t such a bad move. Victorino certainly hits lefties better than righties, and Veras had been throwing well. But it was such a waste of the team’s best or second best reliever. Smyly held righties to a .242 average this year. He shouldn’t have been put in the situation as a one-and-done. Leyland wanted to save Phil Coke for David Ortiz, apparently, but it would have made more sense to let Coke face Ellsbury and then let Smyly have at Ortiz and a couple of the right-handers surrounding him. That was their best bet.

Instead, Smyly was gone after facing one left-handed batter for the third time in four ALCS appearances. It had happened just five times in 65 appearances between the regular season and ALDS (during which time he amassed a 2.34 ERA in 77 innings). The one time he was allowed to go longer against the Red Sox he ended up retiring all five batters he faced.

Game 2 was lost by the Tigers in nearly the same fashion as Game 6. Benoit, who gave up David Ortiz’s grand slam, was the fourth reliever to pitch in the eighth inning. Smyly walked Ellsbury and was immediately removed in that one.

Of course, not all of this is on Leyland. Things could have worked out fine had some non-Smyly relievers made better pitches. It’s just that Smyly seemed like the best bet to make those better pitches.

It’s easy to imagine the Tigers overreacting to their ALCS loss and signing a big-name closer this winter after passing on Rafael Soriano last winter. Trading Rick Porcello for late-inning relief help and moving Smyly to the rotation might also be a consideration. Benoit is a free agent, and if he’s back, it’ll probably be as a setup man. Ideally, Bruce Rondon would have been ready to close, but after his late-season elbow woes, he can’t be counted on in the role just yet. As is, I can’t help but think the Tigers will import one closer from the group of Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan and Brian Wilson this winter.

Race and Sports in America: Jimmy Rollins on impact of George Floyd’s death and BLM

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Former major league shortstop Jimmy Rollins was among a handful of professional athletes to sit down and talk with NBCSN about the intersection of race and sports in America. The nation hit a flashpoint on May 25 when George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The event sparked worldwide protests, including all across the U.S.

In the excerpt below, Rollins discusses gun culture as a Black man as well as what it was like to watch the video of Floyd’s death.

Race and Sports in America: Conversations is a one-hour show with two segments that debuts on NBCSN on Monday, July 13 at 8 pm ET. It will be simulcast on Golf Channel, Olympic Channel, and the regional sports networks. Along with Rollins, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Lynn, Troy Mullins, James Blake, Steph Curry, Charles Barkley, Ozzie Smith, and Jerome Bettis participated in the discussions.


DAMON HACK:  Is it exhausting, Jimmy?  How exhausting is it?  Chuck talked about it; it’s not new for a lot of people, but it’s new for maybe the majority of Americans.  But this is nothing new for the Black community.

JIMMY ROLLINS:  Nothing new at all.  We’ve seen video after video after video, usually resulting in someone getting shot for doing something they’re asked, because their color is their gun.  Being the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood means you’re an automatic threat.

But when you look at the majority of gun owners they aren’t Black men or Black people in general.  We shy away from gun stores.  We shy away from getting permits and licenses to carry because we’re not comfortable even when we walk in.

So going to a gun store, am I a criminal?  That’s the first thing you’re thinking they’re thinking.  Well, what do you need the gun for?  Who are you planning to go kill?

Yet, when we get pulled over or when we’re just walking down a street or doing just the normal things that any American or any person in this world is doing, we’re already a threat for doing it.  And if you’re in a wrong neighborhood, what are you doing here?  You have to be up to no good.

So it’s something that isn’t new.  George Floyd’s situation, watching a man being suffocated and choked out like that for eight minutes and 46 seconds, that was new.  We’ve seen people get shot.  It’s, like, okay, he’s going to get shot again.

When I was watching the video, not knowing the full story prior to it, I just pulled it up and it was there, I’m thinking, okay, he got up and he got shot.  But as it gets going, this man really is kneeling on his neck with no remorse.  It was kind of like, I don’t want to listen to you because I don’t have to.  So that part was new.

Here’s a guy actually being choked out with a man on top of him making a decision:  I am taking your life because I can ‑‑ over a $20 or a counterfeit $20 bill?  You don’t die over that.