MINNEAPOLIS -- Brad Ausmus' first chance at managing a Major League game came with the Dodgers, not the Tigers. Then-manager Joe Torre had a tradition of letting one of his players manage the final game of the season; Ausmus had his chance in both of his seasons as a Dodger.
On Sunday, as Ausmus finished out his Tigers managerial tenure with a 5-1 loss to the Twins, he continued the tradition, handing the lineup card and the responsibilities to veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler.
"I just saw him in the food room eating breakfast and asked him if he wanted to do it," Ausmus said. "I didn't think he really had an interest, but when I asked him, he seemed almost adamant that he'd like to do it."
Kinsler said he was caught off guard. He said he had no managerial aspirations, but wanted to give it a try.
"It was definitely interesting," Kinsler said, "to think about the game in a little bit different way. There's a lot of variables that you have to think about."
Ausmus gained clearance with umpires for Kinsler to make any mid-inning pitching moves, though there ended up being none. It went so smoothly that, aside from the sight of Kinsler in Ausmus' usual spot at the end of the dugout, there was no indication anything was different.
"I was completely unprepared," Kinsler admitted. "I had no idea what pitchers were available. I had a pretty good idea what position players were available. But as far as who has thrown the most pitches the last three days, how many innings he wanted Sanchez to go in the last start, I wasn't really prepared. But it was fun."
It was an unselfish gesture from a manager who never sought the spotlight, but seemed to find it often over his four-year Tigers tenure. But at game's end, for the first time in 30 years, Ausmus was off the baseball calendar.
He spent nearly a quarter-century catching in pro ball, including an 18-year Major League career. He became a special assistant for the Padres almost immediately after retiring as a player, and served as Tigers manager for the last four seasons. Sunday finished Detroit's 2017 season and the final year on Ausmus' contract.
"It feels like this is the last game," Ausmus said. "I don't know if there's any other way to describe it. I'm not relieved by it. I'm not happy about it. I'm not unhappy about it. It just feels like the last game."
He had time to prepare for it, since general manager Al Avila announced a week and a half ago that the Tigers wouldn't re-sign Ausmus for 2018. Even before that, he said, he was not inclined to sign an extension if one had been offered. Ausmus knows the challenge ahead for the Tigers as they begin a rebuilding project he suspected was coming ever since his first season, when the Tigers won their last of four American League Central titles before being swept by the Orioles in the Division Series.
The rebuild came this year at midseason, and it was a rough stretch ever since.
"It doesn't shock me that this happened," Ausmus said. "I think people in the game saw this kind of coming. I think it hit a little hard this year. I don't know if it was sooner than expected, but it hit hard."
With his fate sealed, Ausmus spent the week clearing his to-do list, including his long-discussed idea of playing Andrew Romine at all nine positions in a game Saturday, and finally with letting a player manage.
Ausmus took time before Saturday's game to talk to the team in a closed-door meeting. That, he admitted, was when the emotions hit him.
He hadn't talked to the team as a group about his fate since last week's announcement. Avila was the one who told the team last week that Ausmus won't be back next year. Ausmus wanted to wait until season's end, for one of the same reasons he wanted to manage out the year: There was still a schedule to be played.
Yet as much as he likes the schedule, the strategy, the challenge of the daily grind, it's the relationships that he says he'll miss first and foremost.
"You miss the people, obviously," he said, "the people and the competition. Same as when I left as a player."
And thus, with the end visible on the horizon and the people he has led in front of him, Ausmus got emotional.
"A little bit more than I thought I might," Ausmus said. "I didn't break down in tears. I got a little lump in my throat."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.