HOUSTON -- When new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus takes out the lineup card to the umpires on Opening Day next year, it will mark his first game as a Major League skipper. But that doesn't mean Ausmus hasn't had experience pulling the strings from the dugout.
Ausmus, who was introduced at a news conference Sunday in Detroit as the replacement for Jim Leyland, actually "managed" the Astros during a portion of an 18-inning game against the Pirates on May 27, 2006, in Pittsburgh, which only bolstered the belief he was destined to actually manage some day.
Ausmus didn't start the game, but he pinch-hit in the 12th and was removed. After manager Phil Garner was ejected in the eighth inning -- and with bench coach Cecil Cooper away from the team to attend a family function -- the Astros were a little thin on the bench when it came to game managers.
Enter Ausmus, who took the lineup card and control of the Astros from the dugout for the final six innings.
"He got such a kick out of it," Garner said with a chuckle. "I was up in the clubhouse and he was running up to the clubhouse saying, 'Yeah, you know, we get to the ninth inning and we're going to do this and we can do that.' I was like, 'OK, Brad,' and I let him do it. He had great ideas. He was two innings ahead."
Garner, who managed Ausmus in Detroit and Houston, didn't need to see Ausmus manage a game from the dugout to know he was managerial material.
Ausmus was a key player on the Astros teams that made deep playoff runs in 2004-05, the starting catcher for a pitching rotation that included All-Star hurlers Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt.
"There's a reason why those starting pitchers believed in him so much, because he did his homework and he was prepared," former Astros second baseman Craig Biggio said. "He's going to do the same thing as a manager now. He's going to do his homework and prepare and let his players play and do the things he needs to do. And he'll listen to the players."
Like Ausmus, Garner got his first managing opportunity at a young age (42), and only three years after his playing career had ended. He spent eight seasons with the Brewers and two full years with Detroit before being dismissed six games into the 2002 season. In '04, Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker turned to Garner at the All-Star break to take over an underachieving 44-44 team, replacing Jimy Williams.
Garner led the Astros to a 36-10 finish and the National League Wild Card and into the NL Championship Series, where they lost in seven games to the Cardinals. The Astros won the NL pennant and played in their only World Series a year later.
"If you remember correctly, he ran the pitchers and catchers meetings, and he did it because he knew what he was doing," Garner said. "Normally, the coaches handle it and we'd always find when the advanced report packet came in, that it was always opened. That's because Brad was the first guy to get in and look at it.
"It didn't take long to figure out he knew what he was doing. ... Brad took the initiative and knew what was going on, and then you knew eventually he was going to be the guy to run a ballclub. He's going to be good at it. His time has come."
Ausmus will inherit a star-studded Tigers team that reached the American League Championship Series last season, led by slugger Miguel Cabrera and pitchers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
"I think it's a great deal," Garner said. "It's good for the Tigers and great for Brad. Of course, you know what I think of him. It's a good call. I'm glad he's decided to do it. Apparently, he had a couple of opportunities and decided not to take the first couple of chances. This is going to be good."
Ausmus interviewed last year to take over the Astros, but he eventually withdrew his name from consideration. Houston turned to Nationals third-base coach Bo Porter to manage the rebuilding Astros, who weren't a fit for Ausmus.
"He wasn't ready for that at this stage of his life," said Biggio, who serves as a special assistant to general manager Jeff Luhnow. "I'm excited for him and he's ready for this, and I think he's going to do a great job. He's got [bench coach] Gene Lamont over there, and he likes Gene a lot. And when you can run out two of the best starting pitchers and the best hitter in the game, you're going to be pretty successful."
Garner said there's not much advice he could give to Ausmus that he doesn't already know at this stage.
"I think things will come naturally," he said. "I think the first thing that you would tell a young fellow that's going to manage is just be yourself. Don't try to emulate somebody else, because the players will see right through that and it won't be a very good deal.
"With each manager you play with, you probably learn some things from them that you like and you're going to do, and there's probably going to be some things you saw a manager do that you didn't like and you probably won't do. Either way, you've learned from everybody. I think my advice is, 'Hey, be yourself.'"