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Omir Santos’ career destruction…and redemption

(AP)

Omir Santos: Taekwondo Panda?

Omir Santos’ throw was off the mark, pulling Jhonny Peralta three steps off the bag to his right.  The sweep tag actually got Curtis Granderson stealing second, though. Second base umpire Dan Bellino didn’t see it that way, calling Granderson safe in the top of the third. Santos paused for second before putting his mask back on. It was almost like he was feeling the 44,593 sets of eyes on him for the first time, like he knew the crowd finally realized that something was different, that it wasn’t Alex Avila of Gerald Laird behind the plate.

But not much had happened. A fast guy stole a base. It happens all the time. Plus, Santos actually threw him out, although he didn’t know it at the time. Since not much had happened, there was no cause for alarm. Santos job as the backup-backup catcher was still the same: don’t blow it. For seven innings, that’s exactly what he did.

Then Nick Swisher took off from first in the top of the eighth. Santos threw it to the exact same spot as the first one, except came up five feet short. The ball bounced under Peralta’s glove and into center field. That inner voice telling Santos he could do it — that the Tigers called him up for a reason — shut up. What confidence he had oozed out of his pores and puddled near his feet.

The Yankees saw it. It was tough to miss.

In the ninth Dewayne Wise stole second. Derek Jeter, the next batter, walked. Down one run in the bottom of the ninth, against a pitcher who couldn’t find the plate, New York pulled off a double steal.

Tonight was the Omir Santos expose: He wasn’t fit for the big leagues. A 21st-round pick in 2001, he never was. Going from the Orioles to the Mets, he flashed some ability making the Topps All-Rookie team at the age of 28. But he melted like he did Saturday night. Less than a year later, he was out of the organization.

He came to the Tigers as a castoff and after Detroit signed Gerald Laird this offseason, was destined to only be a castoff. This night proved it once and for all. In what could be his only shot to make an impact he blew it.

Jose Valverde loaded the bases and walked in the tying run. The Tigers just needed to survive and they needed a single out.

Raul Ibanez popped up his fourth pitch. Santos called off Prince Fielder. He had a chance to end his own misery, to show he wasn’t completely worthless, that he was at least capable of catching a routine pop up.

He stuck a T-Rex arm out and opened his glove. The ball squirted right passed it on its way to the gravel.

“I just missed it,” he told reporters after the game. “I wasn’t even close.”

As the TV camera lingered on Santos, that lack confidence turned into something completely different: shame. Ibanez would eventually ground out to end the inning, but the fact that was a minor detail, to be spun out of the story when it was retold. Omir Santos had blown this game.

A complete lack of confidence emitted from an entire ballpark. Santos was the cornerback that always got picked on, the goalie about to get pulled, the guard whose couldn’t stay in front. Santos wouldn’t just leave the game, he would leave with every one knowing his name for the wrong reasons.

Delmon Young flied out to right. The stories were already written: one inning away from victory, Santos let the Yankees back in the game, only to watch them win it in extras.

Then Brennan Boesch singled. So did Peralta. Ramon Santiago pinch walked. And Omir Santos stepped to the plate.

Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, tie game. Sports at its finest.

Magglio Ordonez would have hit a home run to left and it would have sent the Tigers to the World Series.

Santos hit a sacrifice fly, the most benchwarmer way to win a game possible. But that’s a minor detail to be spun out of the story when it is retold.

After three hours of misery, of destroying his career, everything was forgiven — on an out. No star player or starter could have accomplished the same feat in as little time.

Want to know why I love the little guy?

Take a look at Saturday night.

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