Tyler Collins' gesture undermines Tigers' win, enrages fans

DETROIT -- Detroit Tigers fans would have forgiven Tyler Collins for the misplay in center field. It would’ve simply been an unsightly gaffe swept into the margins of an otherwise morale-boosting win -- a brief interlude of disapproval amidst a night studded with plenty of reasons to cheer.

But Collins' most egregious mistake on Monday night was not losing the ball in the lights. His fatal error in judgment came just moments later, when he responded not by shaking off the derisive taunts or acknowledging his miscue, but rather by directing his frustrations toward the crowd of 21,671 and flipping the bird to the booing masses.

And for that, he will likely be persona non grata around these parts for the foreseeable future, no matter how sincere or impassioned his postgame apologies may have been.

Collins’ crude gesture accomplished two things on Monday night: It subtracted from a spirited and vital 7-3 win against the Oakland Athletics and it exposed something that has been simmering since last season -- a palpable and powerful sense of contention between Tigers players and the fans.

The fact that reporters were forced to prematurely peel off from starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann’s postgame scrum, scrambling instead to crowd Collins’ locker, was the only tableau one needed to understand just how one ill-advised action can undermine a stellar team effort.

Zimmermann, who has been sterling in his four starts since joining the team in the offseason, extended his scoreless streak to 24⅓ innings -- a franchise record for any pitcher starting his time with the Tigers, according to Elias Sports Bureau research -- before surrendering his first run of the season in the sixth inning.

The 29-year-old deserved the right to be basking in another impressive outing. Instead, he gave a few abbreviated answers before Collins held court across the clubhouse.

Miguel Cabrera, who snapped a four-game slump with a pair of home runs -- one in his first at-bat against Oakland’s Kendall Graveman, and a three-run shot in the fifth inning -- should have been reveling in his 34th multi-home run game of his career and preening in celebration, but he was nowhere to be found after the game.

Manager Brad Ausmus must have finally felt relieved to talk about something -- anything -- other than his oft-criticized personnel decisions and bullpen moves. Yet he, too, had to answer for Collins’ mistake in wake of the team’s critical victory that snapped a four-game losing streak.

Collins, to his credit, apologized to those people that were forced to answer for his errors. He came across as shaken, mortified and remorseful, saying he should not have lost his temper or given in to his emotions. Collins did, however, preface his reaction with an explanation, one that seemed to either put part of the onus on fans, or plead for them to reconsider their approach.

Either way, that might not go over so well.

As Detroit Lions veteran receiver Golden Tate learned to his chagrin back in October, it is a losing battle to critique the hometown fans no matter how much you disagree with their invective. It might make sense from a rational perspective -- don’t jeer the very players you want to encourage to do well -- but fandom is an emotional endeavor, not always governed by logic.

Fans need to understand that players are human beings and, most times, won’t perform better when incurring their wrath. But players need to understand that fans pay for the right to voice their displeasure, as unpleasant as it may be.

This is a sensitive relationship, already fraught from the frustration of last year and the year prior, in fact. If you need a reminder, take a look back at veteran Victor Martinez’s comments from September and think back on how those were received. Why the divide? After four straight division titles, fans were dismayed at the myriad issues that plagued the Tigers in 2015, while players were shocked to see their supporters so fickle. After all, hadn’t they just won four straight division titles?

The reality of the situation, though, is that a large payroll brings with it lofty expectations, and the failure to meet those will undoubtedly cause discord.

Collins failed to meet those expectations Monday night, both with his play and with his actions afterward. It sullied a win and it made a strained relationship between players and fans fray just a little bit further.