Polanco went into a swift retreat, ran the ball down and reached over his shoulder to make the catch in full stride, but lost his balance as his momentum carried him deeper into the outfield. As he fell, he landed on his left shoulder and rolled over a couple times. He immediately grabbed his shoulder in obvious pain as center fielder Curtis Granderson called for head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.
Tests conducted immediately after the injury confirmed what Polanco knew as soon as he hit the ground.
"I felt it [pop out]," Polanco said after the game.
The resulting scene in the clubhouse after the game was almost as strange as the one on the field after the injury. There was Polanco after the game at his locker, trying to share the enjoyment in the victory as he held his left arm close to his body until the training staff could put the arm in a sling. Teammates came around and asked about the shoulder, wanting to shake his hand but obviously not able to. Reporters came around and asked about the play.
"I would rather have Polly miss that ball, just so he wouldn't have gotten hurt," starting pitcher Jeremy Bonderman said, "but that's the way this game works. He played the game hard and made a great play to save a run."
All the while, Polanco remained relatively positive. Because he was able to bring his hand into his body as he fell instead of leaving it extended, he said, he probably spared himself a worse injury. Other than that, there wasn't much he could do about it.
"I got hurt playing," he said. "I made a good play, saved a run. There's nothing to explain. It's not like you got hurt messing around. That's one of those things you have no control over."
Short-term, the injury left the Tigers in a bind for the final innings. Omar Infante, Detroit's utility infielder off the bench, started Tuesday at third base before being lifted for Brandon Inge in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement. With two outfielders and backup catcher Vance Wilson remaining on the bench, manager Jim Leyland pinch-hit Wilson in Polanco's spot leading off the eighth, then moved Ivan Rodriguez to second base in the bottom of the inning.
It was Rodriguez's first career appearance at second base in his 1,983rd Major League game, adding another position to his resume. He has already been an occasional first baseman this season, and Leyland said last month he thinks Rodriguez is the kind of athlete who could play well at just about any position given some time to get acclimated.
"I take ground balls for things like that," said Rodriguez, who frequently takes infield practice. "They need me, right? So that's why I take ground balls sometimes during the season, just in case that happens. Not a lot, but once in a while."
Fittingly, Rodriguez used Polanco's glove, complete with the Dominican flag sewn onto it.
Long-term, Leyland said Infante will receive the bulk of the playing time at second base with Polanco out. It's not a major adjustment for the 24-year-old Venezuelan, who was Detroit's starting second baseman for the first half of last season until the Tigers acquired Polanco from Philadelphia in the Ugueth Urbina trade.
With Infante now thrust into a starting role and Polanco placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Tigers recalled infielder Ramon Santiago from Triple-A Toledo to take his roster spot. Santiago was the second utility infielder off the bench until he was optioned out on July 21 to make way for Dmitri Young's return from the DL.
Filling the spot is one thing, but replacing Polanco's contribution will be more difficult. He ended the day batting .294 with three homers and 44 RBIs and just 25 strikeouts in 435 at-bats, all of them either batting second or leadoff.
Defensively, Polanco's steady, intelligent play at second was a major reason for Detroit's improved infield defense this year. He entered Tuesday ranked second among AL second basemen with 305 assists and 75 double plays. He led his position in Zone Rating, a figure used by STATS Inc. to measure the percentage of balls fielded by a player that fall into his defensive area.
Leyland has consistently refused to allow his team to use injuries as an excuse. He planned to talk to his team about that on Wednesday before their series finale.
"You don't replace a guy like Polanco, obviously," he said. "But this is one of those things that has to be digested. You talk to your club a little bit about it. We'll have no excuses. We just have to go forward. Every team in baseball has had injuries. We've been relatively very fortunate this year. It's part of the game, and we'll have no excuses. We'll go out and play our [tails] off."