Tigers get big victory on little plays

DETROIT — When it comes to baseball highlights, it’s the majestic home runs that get the most play.

The Tigers (83-72) had a couple of those in their 5-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals Wednesday night, but it was the little plays that won the game for them late. The victory coupled with a Chicago White Sox loss has the Tigers alone atop the AL Central standings this morning.

In the eighth inning, Delmon Young got an infield single, just beating second baseman Irving Falu’s throw. That was the first little thing.

Manager Jim Leyland had Don Kelly run for Young. Despite Kelvin Herrera’s 100-mph  pitches, Kelly stole second base. That was the second little thing.

“Obviously, Delmon getting down the line was huge, getting on base,” said Alex Avila, who had a two-run home run in the fourth. “That’s a tough guy to steal on because he’s not necessarily slow to the plate.”

Andy Dirks singled, sending Kelly to third.

Jhonny Peralta then hit a ground ball that looked like it was going to add to the Tigers’ league-leading total of 150 double plays grounded into. But Dirks delivered a takeout slide so hard that Falu didn’t even attempt a throw to first.

The result was the game-winning run on the fielder’s choice, none of which would have happened without the “little” efforts of Young, Kelly and Dirks.

“Dirks made that play happen,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “With Peralta running, we are always going to go for the double play there.

“And we had it, but Dirks busted his tail to get down there and break it up.”

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas was sure his team was out of the inning at that point.

“Peralta was slow getting out of the box, so that’s an easy double play,” Moustakas said. “I’m always going to go to second on that play, but Dirks did a heck of a job to break it up.”

Dirks said as soon as he saw the ground ball, that’s all he was thinking about.

“You just try to get a piece of him,” Dirks said. “You’re not trying to hurt him, per se. You’re just trying to break up the double play.

“However you can do it, to help the team, is what your goal is.”
 
If the Tigers do reach their goal and make the playoffs, they will likely look back on that play as a pivotal one.

“That means the game right there,” said Austin Jackson, who tied the game at 4 in the fourth with a home run. “It means he went all-out right there and just had to break the play up.

“He’s doing all that for the team by getting down there and breaking it up and letting Donnie go ahead and score. That’s the way you got to play the game.”

The Royals might be 70-85 and out of contention, but they’ve played over .500 ball the last two months.

They dazzled with incredible defensive plays Wednesday, from over-the-shoulder catches by shortstop Alcides Escobar to home run-robbing catches by Alex Gordon (of Miguel Cabrera) in left field.

On Wednesday, the Tigers made a few plays of their own.

“This is playoff-type baseball because we’re fighting our fannies off, just like the other team is, to get in,” Leyland said. “The other teams are fighting us tooth and nail to show us, ‘Hey. We’re not going to make it easy on you. ‘

“It’s really baseball at its best.”