By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Ever since 2010 NL Rookie of the Year catcher Buster Posey suffered a gruesome broken ankle trying to prevent a run in 2011, Alex Avila has fielded questions on what rules should be in place regarding home plate collisions.
“I’ve always been asked that question ever since Buster got hurt,” said Avila, the starting catcher for the Detroit Tigers. “I’ve been hit a bunch of times and I’ve never seen anything wrong with it. It’s part of the game. You do what you can as a catcher – and I have over my career – to protect yourself. Sometimes you – like in this situation – you can’t, and you have to deal with it.”
Avila got asked the question Thursday because he had to leave Game 5 in the fourth inning after Red Sox catcher David Ross ran him over trying to score. Avila finished the inning and completed his next at bat but eventually was replaced by Brayan Pena – though not before he took yet another foul tip off his catcher’s mask. The reason for his exit, though, was a knee injury.
“The left knee was pretty rough, pretty bad,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “I don’t want to sound like some emergency situation, because I don’t know that. But we felt like the best thing to do would be to get him out of there and hopefully be ready to play two days from now in Boston. I’m not really sure about that at this point.”
Avila said twisting his knee made an old injury flare up, but he seemed to expect to play Saturday in Game 6.
“Same type of injury that I had in 2011, I’ve dealt with it on and off the last three years or so, but just restrained it again,” Avila said. “I’m familiar with it. I know what to expect. Just want to – hopefully it’ll be better tomorrow and I think I should be good to go on Saturday.”
Neither Avila nor Leyland had any issue with what Ross did on the play, barreling into Avila, who had planted his left knee in the dirt and positioned himself to block the plate after receiving the throw from second baseman Omar Infante, but Leyland said home plate collisions should be governed somehow in the future.
“In this particular case I’m not going to whine about it,” Leyland said. “There should be changes made at some point. It has nothing to do with tonight because the rules are what they are still. David really did the only thing he could do. I have absolutely no problem with that.
“It’s a tough play for a catcher,” Leyland continued. “Basically, if you’ve got time, you hope you can sometimes step off to the side and tag him as he’s going by, if you can kind of step off to the side and tag him as he’s going by, it’s probably a little better. But sometimes you just don’t think about that.”
Avila gave the same explanation for how he might have tried to get to one side or the other, but he did not want to risk missing the tag or dropping the ball, so in the little time he had to decide, he simply stood his ground.
“I had a better chance to hold onto it like I did if I faced him head on, which is probably a bad idea,” Avila said with a hint of a smile. “Normally you don’t think that you’re going to get injured, at least I don’t in a situation like that. It was a good hard play.”
Catchers easily see more contact than any other position in baseball, but even by those standards, Avila’s year has been rough. He has taken an unusual number of foul tips to the face, and he spent days on the disabled list earlier in the season for post-conconcussion symptoms. He takes the beating, though, and returns to do it again every day because he enjoys the game and realizes the fleeting time that the Tigers have to perform at this high level.
“You see how our pitchers are pitching,” Avila said. “That’s a lot of motivation right there. I can be a part of that. Also this team, a lot of players will tell you around the league, you’re not going to have opportunities like we’ve had the last three years, as good as we’ve been, so coming to the ballpark every day is something I love doing, especially on the team we’re on. I want to make sure I take every advantage of that to be out there.
“It’s a tough position,” he added. “I knew that going in. I guess I’m just able to shake it off.”