Joe Nathan's struggles this season have been well documented. The veteran closer of the Detroit Tigers has been anything but sturdy in his ninth-inning role, leading to a league-high seven blown saves to go along with a 5.11 ERA.
Not exactly production that instills confidence in a relief pitcher, and in particular a closer, but rookie manager Brad Ausmus has remained patient with his veteran. That may actually speak more to his unwillingness to rock the boat in his first campaign, but Tigers fans on the other hand have been predictably less patient with Nathan, and they frequently let him know of their frustrations when he enters the spotlight at Comerica Park.
Such was the case again Wednesday when Nathan entered with a four-run lead in the ninth inning and proceeded to walk the first two batters he faced. As the boos cascaded down, Nathan collected himself like a veteran should and escaped the jam to secure Detroit's 8-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
However, immediately afterward he responded to the crowd with a rather unflattering gesture.
For those unfamiliar, that would be the more subtle variation of flipping the bird.
Same message. Different language.
To be perfectly honest, it's a natural reaction given the fans' reaction. It's not Nathan's intention to struggle or put his team in precarious positions. It's also not his intention to make Tigers fans' stomachs churn with each delivery. He's trying to get his season turned around, and it's at points like this where we all prefer a little support as opposed to constantly being criticized and reminded of our shortcomings.
When that doesn't come, it's easy to get frustrated and emotional.
That said, Nathan's a grown man who's been through a lot in 14 big league seasons. He's one who you would think would let such reaction roll off his back. The frustration that has been building up all season long just got the best of him on Wednesday, and it's unfortunate because it will likely define his entire season and perhaps his entire tenure in Detroit should it continue beyond 2014.
Update: Nathan showed up to Comerica Park on Thursday morning feeling contrite.
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