DETROIT — When Dave Dombrowski hired Brad Ausmus to manage the Tigers, no one paid much attention to his Ivy League education.
As it turns out, that degree from Dartmouth might be more important than anyone realized.
Wednesday, one of the smartest men in baseball became the first manager in major-league history to win two replay challenges in the same game. Granted, that’s slightly less impressive when you consider that it was only the third day of baseball’s new replay system, but it still played a key role in Detroit’s 2-1 victory over the Royals.
"I didn’t think that it would matter where he went to school," said Ian Kinsler. "But he got both of those challenges right today, so apparently Dartmouth is a good place to go."
Ausmus challenged a pair of calls by first-base umpire Chris Conroy. In both cases, crew chief Jerry Meals donned a headset behind home plate to consult with MLB headquarters and was told to change the call. The first play — Tyler Collins beating out a double-play relay in the sixth inning — resulted in a three-minute delay, but it only took 60 seconds to decide that Al Alburquerque’s 10th-inning throw had beaten Nori Aoki to first.
Ausmus slowly strolling out for a polite chat with the umpires was a strange sight for Tigers fans used to Jim Leyland’s fiery arguments.
"It’s a little awkward when you go out there, because you are really just killing time until the video room tells you if you should challenge or not," he said. "It doesn’t make any sense to go out there and scream and yell when they know you have a challenge to use. I’m more likely to ask where they are going for dinner."
Ausmus said he relies on his players and coaches to tell him when to start the process, since they are in the middle of the action. In the first situation, first-base Omar Vizquel made a safe signal to tell Ausmus that he thought the call was incorrect, while Justin Verlander gave the same signal from the dugout to let him know to make the official challenge.
"I think all the managers are coming to the conclusion that they need some help with this, because it is hard to see whether a foot is on the base or off the ground from 60 yards away," he said. "I’ve told the coaches and the players that, if there is a call that they completely disagree with, to let me know through body language."
So the replay system worked, something that even Royals manager Ned Yost acknowledged, even though both calls had gone against him.
"That’s the reason we’re doing it — to get calls right," he said. "They both went against us today, but they were right, and that’s the important part. I certainly have no complaints."
The second play turned out to be a key moment in the game, because the Royals would have had runners on the corners with two out in the top of the 10th. Instead, the overturned call ended the inning, and gave the Tigers a chance to win the game in the bottom of the inning.
Austin Jackson started the inning by drawing a walk, something that he wasn’t able to do often enough as a leadoff hitter. Alex Avila laid down a picture-perfect sacrifice bunt, moving Jackson to second, and Tim Collins walked Nick Castellanos.
That brought up Alex Gonzalez with a chance for his second game-ending hit in as many games, but he hit a harmless pop-up for the second out of the inning.
It didn’t matter, though, because Kinsler was the next batter, and he lined a 1-1 pitch into the left-centerfield gap to give the Tigers their second walk-off win in as many games.
"It is always a great feeling to come through with a win in that situation," said Kinsler, who had delivered Detroit’s only other run with a fourth-inning homer. "Kansas City has a tough bullpen, so it is great that we’ve been able to get to them two days in a row."
Kinsler, though, sounded just like Jim Leyland when he was asked if the two dramatic victories could set up a huge start to the season.
"These games won’t mean anything tomorrow — I’ve been around baseball long enough to know that absolutely anything is possible on any given day," he said.
"The only thing this win will do is let us all sleep better tonight."