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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Avila guns out Vizquel to end the game

There are difficult tasks, then there are darned near impossible ones.

Like being the catcher who has the unenviable task of trying to throw a would-be base-stealer with Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde on the mound.

In his career, catchers have only been able to stop 17 percent of runners with Valverde on the mound. And it’s been even harder lately for Tigers catchers, who’d seen 17 straight attempts end up in a successful stolen base, dating back to last season.

All 11 runners to attempt it this year had been safe.

That streak ended Wednesday night, when Alex Avila gunned out Omar Vizquel to end the game, sealing a 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. [VIDEO OF THE PLAY]

“He had a huge jump. When Jose is on the mound, and a guy takes off, I just try to get rid of it as soon as possible,” Avila said. “I try to put up a perfect throw because I know that a perfect throw is the only way I’m going to get a guy with him. I just released it quick enough.”

The last time they stopped one was July 10, 2011, a span of 85 appearances for the closer, when Avila got Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer trying to swipe third in a one-run game.

When Toronto manager John Farrell pinch hit the 45-year-old Vizquel for Adeiny Hechavarria with two outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game Wednesday night, you probably had to figure that, if the veteran got on, he was going to be running.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew another try was coming Wednesday, too.

“I thought he probably would. It didn’t surprise me. Was I sure? No,” said the manager, who knew his counterpart would push as much as he could, as short-handed as the Jays’ offense has been. “To me, I really thought John Farrell showed a lot of (guts) sending him. It didn’t work, so what? That’s their style. They know Valverde’s slow. They thought they could make it. I give them a helluva lot of credit. I’m sure some people in Toronto are probably questioning it, but I’ll tell you what, I give them a lot of credit. I’m not sure I would’ve done it. Not sure I’d have the (guts) to do it, but he showed me something. That’s how they play.”

Nor was Avila, who had the unenviable task of trying to throw out Vizquel.

“Vizquel has burned us a lot in the past. That’s why he probably pinch-hit on us. The fact that he’s much older than most the guys is a credit to him and how great of an athlete he is,” said the catcher, admitting most jumps runners get on Valverde’s slow delivery are pretty sizable. “That’s pretty much where it is all the time. That’s the thing. Normally, he doesn’t have to worry about that from what he has to do. That’s his thing. He’s not concerned about the runners on base. If he gets the hitters out, he’s doing a good job.”

This time, Avila helped out the process by making the perfect throw to nab Vizquel.

That can be an incredibly hard task for a catcher, though, when he’s getting next to no help from the pitcher holding a runner.

“It’s not a very good feeling,” said Leyland, himself a former minor league catcher. “As a catcher, you have peripheral vision ... you can see if a guy got a good jump or not, and truthfully, as a catcher, you know whether you can throw the guy out or not, in most cases. ... For the most part, as a catcher, I could always tell ‘I got this guy, if I just make a good throw.’ Or, this guy got a helluva jump, so I’m probably in trouble.

“You just tell. You can smell it.”

Here Avila talks about Wednesday's play:


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