May 19th, 2012

Saturday: Tigers vs. Pirates

Very limited difference in the numbers between Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn against A.J. Burnett, but Santiago gets the start. Wouldn’t read anything into it yet other than Leyland trying to get Santiago going.

Other than that, the lineup is the same. Heck, with only one player available off the bench, Jim Leyland can only make one change a day.

TIGERS

  1. Don Kelly, CF
  2. Andy Dirks, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Brennan Boesch, RF
  8. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Drew Smyly

PIRATES

  1. Jose Tabata, RF
  2. Josh Harrison, 2B
  3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  4. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
  5. Neil Walker, DH
  6. Rob Barajas, C
  7. Casey McGehee, 1B
  8. Yamaico Navarro, LF
  9. Clint Barmes, SS

P: A.J. Burnett

Kelly gets defensive gem of no-hit bid

Whatever happened, this weekend’s Pirates-Tigers series was going to be big for Don Kelly. His wife Carrie is the sister of Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, and they live in Pittsburgh in the offseason. The last time they faced each other in Detroit, one of their kids wore a half-Pirates, half-Tigers t-shirt.

Even with Kelly manning center field behind Justin Verlander against a struggling Pirates lineup, he probably didn’t figure on being the guy to make the key play in a would-be no-hitter.

“You’re family, but when you’re between the lines, you’re competing,” Kelly said. “It would’ve been an interesting talk later. Even a couple years later, when I went into the stands and took one, and he slid and robbed me, and I dove and robbed him, those are bragging rights within the family, stealing hits.”

Kelly’s sixth-inning catch robbed Josh Harrison, not Walker, who was on deck. Still, with a no-hitter in the works, that goes on a team, not just an individual hitter.

Kelly didn’t know off the bat whether he would be able to get Harrison’s drive to left-center. He was position towards right-center, which accounted for the long run he had to make. He didn’t have to worry about the fences out there, since it’s one of the deepest parts of the park. What he needed was for the ball to hang up long enough for him to get under it.

“We were playing him the other way,” Kelly said. “When he hit it, I didn’t know at first how long it was going to hang up. Once saw it kind of go up more than a line drive, I knew I had a chance.”

Verlander, Avila, Harrison on that one hit

Josh Harrison was the shortest player on the field Friday, but he ended up being the biggest presence in the game for the Pirates. He was the 5-foot-8 leadoff hitter who was the designated hitter. On Friday, he got the only hit.

If not for him, not only do the Pirates not have a hit, they only have one ball out of the infield on Verlander.

“He pitched a great game, but I still felt I saw him well the whole night,” Harrison said, “except for the first two pitches in the ninth.”

Those two pitches marked the fourth-best pitch in Verlander’s repertoire. But as everybody knows by now, that’s a relative statement. Verlander used a bunch of sliders to no-hit Toronto because some of his other pitches supposedly weren’t working. On Friday night, everything was working, and he was using everything.

It was Harrison who hit the ball that required the best defensive play of the night, a drive to left-center field that sent Don Kelly on a mad dash to run it down. And that was on a curveball. He had given them all fastballs in the opening inning when Harrison flew out to left.

So when Harrison came up with one out in the ninth, Verlander went to sliders.

“He was missing real badly on them,” catcher Alex Avila said. “That’s why we stuck with breaking balls. He was just missing real badly. He fouled that one off that was almost in the other batters box. I just felt it was a no-brainer to throw him another one. The next shatters his bat and he ends up getting a base hit. What are going to do?”

As much adrenaline as Verlander had going as Harrison stepped to the plate, two outs away from history, Harrison was feeling the same thing. That, he said, was how he ended up down in the count.

“I was too amped up. I was ready for the fastball, and I swung at the first two without really seeing them,” Harrison said. “So I tried to slow everything down.”

He wasn’t exactly on the last one, but he was on it enough

“It was off the plate,” Verlander said, “but the first two he swung at were down in the dirt and this one was off where he was able to just kind of stick his bat out there and hit it up the middle. That’s why throwing no-hitters is so difficult. It doesn’t take a hard one, it just takes the right placement.”

Or as Avila put it, “His bat died a winner.”

Or as Prince Fielder put it, “Out of all the ways to get it, that was probably the toughest swing I’ve ever seen to get a hit. I don’t know how he hit it. But when things like that happen, I guess it’s not meant to be.”

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