Game 7: Stars line up for Don Kelly
If Victor Martinez doesn’t cut his thumb open on the bat rack in the Tigers dugout Sunday afternoon, there is no Don Kelly highlight on Tuesday. Figures.
The Martinez injury wasn’t public until he was out of the starting lineup on Tuesday. With Martinez out, Jim Leyland shifted Andy Dirks to designated hitter. Don Kelly, 2-for-4 off Brandon Morrow from 2010 to 2011, took Dirks’ place in left field.
Would Dirks have gotten to J.P. Arencibia’s drive to left in the second inning Tuesday? Good question. Kelly does have a height and a reach advantage, which lends itself to plays at the fence. He also has a history of taking away home runs.
He was starting in left field for the injured Dirks last June 2 against the Yankees when Mark Teixeira sent a ball deep to left. Kelly kept his feet under him and timed his jump to get his glove over the fence in time to get the ball.
Tuesday’s grab was different. (Click here for the highlight)
“Teixeira’s, I was able to get back there. It was higher,” Kelly said. “This one, I didn’t have a chance to get back to the fence and jump. It was just all at one time.”
This one was more of a mad dash, ending with more of an impact with the fence, right around his shoulder.
“You know you’re going to hit it,” Kelly said. “I’m just glad it’s a fence. I ran into the one in Cleveland. That’s just straight wall. That didn’t feel good.”
It was only one run leading off the inning, but it was a big early play nonetheless, coming on the heels of the Tigers tallying the opening run in the previous inning. It seemed to set a tone for the rest of Sanchez’s outing.
“After that play, I think something good is coming,” said Anibal Sanchez, who gave up single runs in the third and fifth innings but lasted seven with eight strikeouts, never relinquishing the lead.
It didn’t set a tone for Kelly at the plate, going 0-for-4 on the day. He had a line drive to center field with the bases loaded late that could’ve been a sacrifice fly, but the sharpness of it left Prince Fielder caught off base when Colby Rasmus made the catch, forcing Fielder to scramble back to third rather than take off for home.
Still, for somebody who ended up making a spot start Monday, Kelly made his impact on the scoreboard as well as the fence.
“You have to give Skip credit for being able to incorporate everybody, that everybody has a specific role on the team,” catcher Alex Avila said. “Donnie’s had it for several years on this team where he’s always had to fight in Spring Training for his job and every time he always has a big impact on the year — last year, coming back from Toledo, hitting a game-winning sacrifice fly in the playoffs. Throughout the year, ever since I’ve been here, he’s always been a big part of the team as far as doing something defensively or getting a big hit. I remember two years ago he hit a home run off [Alexi] Ogando where none of us could touch him.
“He’s a guy you should never count out. He’s just a good athlete, a guy that knows baseball, plays the game the right way, and is versatile.”
Play of the game: Brandon Morrow had been playing with fire all game with his ability to get swings and misses off his slider. It wasn’t just the strikeouts he was missing, but the third outs, including Torii Hunter with two strikeouts. Once Morrow had a 3-1 count on Miguel Cabrera, he had little choice but to challenge him and paid for it.
Biggest out: The Tigers kept Jose Bautista hitless Tuesday, including a flyout to right in the third inning after Jose Reyes had singled in Emilio Bonifacio and gone all the way to third on Melky Cabrera’s groundout. The Jays were a hit away from turning that into a game-tying rally and possibly something more.
Strategy: Leyland had a little bit of a surprise by bringing in Drew Smyly for the start of the eighth inning, but took him out after Bautista flied out to deep center field against him. With a 5-2 lead at the time and Edwin Encarnacion due up, Leyland didn’t want to take away chances. He opted for Al Alburquerque there instead.
“They had never seen him before,” Leyland said of Smyly, “so I thought it was a good thing. But when a couple righties after the first out smoked the ball pretty good, I went to Alburquerque hoping to end the inning, which he did. … Truth be known, you could’ve brought in the righty to face Bautista, but I just felt that they hadn’t seen Smyly. He’s throwing pretty good. He got one quick on the pop-up on the [Jose Reyes] bunt.”
Smyly threw so few pitches that he’s expected to be available in a long relief role Wednesday if needed.
Strategy, part II: In hindsight, the decision by third-base coach Tom Brookens to send Hunter home was due to get second-guessed. It wasn’t the arm in right field, but it was shallow enough that Rajai Davis could get a running start on it and fire home.
“That’s one [third base coach Tom Brookens] would like to have back, I would think with no outs,” Leyland said. “With two outs, maybe one out, that’s a little different situation. That’s one he’d probably like to have back.”