For the second consecutive day the Detroit Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals thanks to an RBI groundout. Yesterday Andy Dirks’ takeout slide prevented Kansas City from turning a double play, allowing Don Kelly to score the eventual winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Today, Alex Avila hit a hard grounder to first with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth that scored Kelly from third base.
An odd sounding play? Absolutely.
Backup catcher Brayan Pena, who had entered the game at first base earlier after Eric Hosmer was lifted due to a shoulder strain, made a sprawling snag of the grounder just in front of the first base bag. Instead of rolling off his stomach to attempt a throw home to force out the lead runner, he automatically reached out with his glove to tag the bag. That action forced out Avila for the second out, but Pena no chance to throw Don Kelly out at home. It would have probably been a close play with Pena flat on his front, but he would have had time to at least attempt a throw home had that been his initial reaction. It’s tough to say, but I’m inclined to think he gets the out at home (watch it here). Defensive gaffes weren’t anything new to Kansas City on the afternoon. They compiled five errors as a club leading to three unearned runs for the Tigers.
For much of the game it didn’t appear as though the bottom of the ninth would be necessary. The Tigers scored a pair of runs in the each of the first two innings to stake Doug Fister to a four run lead early on. Fister responded by spinning seven of the most masterful innings you’ll see. Through seven innings, Fister held the Royals scoreless on only one hit, zero walks, and ten strikeouts – including an American League record nine hitters in a row at point.
But Fister ran into some trouble when he returned to the hill in the eighth inning. The Royals suddenly jumped on his offerings and plated three runs on five hits. Fister was hooked after only recording two outs in the inning. Phil Coke replaced him and retired his only batter, but the Royals, after doing nothing offensively all game, had suddenly climbed within a run of the lead.
Joaquin Benoit entered the game in the ninth to protect a one run lead – I have heard unconfirmed rumors that Jose Valverde was feeling under the weather – and promptly allowed a lead off home run to Billy Butler. He escaped the inning without further damage, but the save was blown and the lead was gone. I don’t put much stock into the “Benoit doesn’t have the mental fortitude to close games” mindset, but it would be concerning if the Tigers can’t find a way to nail down games in the ninth inning.
No harm, no foul for now though. The Tigers won in the end and expanded their lead to a game and a half over the Chicago White Sox. The magic number is now six.