Tigers' McCann, Avila provide defensive dazzle

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers first baseman Alex Avila makes a catch in foul territory in the seventh inning. The ball for just a second almost comes out of his glove but he holds on.

Detroit — Baseball highlights shows might have sent a thank-you note Saturday to the Tigers.

Not only were there first-inning fireworks, when the Tigers crushed three consecutive home runs – by Alex Avila, Miguel Cabrera, and J.D. Martinez – as part of their 9-3 thumping of the Rangers at Comerica Park.

There were three separate defensive plays that would have titillated audiences anywhere in baseball’s universe.

Two of them came courtesy of catcher James McCann.

He slid into the backstop’s support wall to grab Mike Napoli’s pop-up in the second, nearly infusing himself into the base’s brickwork.

In the seventh, he all but ran into the Tigers dugout chasing Joey Gallo’s pop-up. McCann stopped, discovered he had over-run the ball, then dived to his right, snagging the ball before it – and he – crashed to the ground.

“I knew I was getting close to the wall,” McCann said of his first performance, “but I was able to time my slide.”

Of his second set of acrobatics, which nearly carried him into the Tigers dugout, and then nearly tore him in two as he sprawled desperately to catch Gallo’s ball, McCann said: “The wind was really pushing it on top. I thought I was going to get it at the dugout, then I realized the wind had blown it back.”

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Avila had another jewel two batters later. Playing first base in place of Cabrera, who was Saturday’s designated hitter, Avila ran at a long, 45-degree angle into foul territory chasing Delino DeShields’ pop fly.

Avila was all but in the front-row seats when he snared the ball, had it bounce free of his glove, snatched it again, and nearly lost it once more before clamping onto it.

“I’m not exactly familiar with how much ground I have there,” he said, speaking of his adjustment to first base. “I figured I’d go after it till somebody called me off.

“I didn’t hear anybody, so I figured it was my ball.”

Kinsler leaves

Ian Kinsler has been dealing with a bad left hamstring this month. It isn’t getting better.

He left Saturday’s game after the fourth inning, an inning after he had scored from third base on a bit of shrewd derring-do.

Cabrera hit a comeback grounder to Rangers pitcher A.J. Griffin, who threw to first for the put-out. Kinsler, though, had just enough lead, and had timed Griffin’s throw so perfectly, he broke for home, sliding in safely ahead of Napoli’s relay.

But the sprint stretched Kinsler’s hamstring. It isn’t believed to be serious or disabling, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus wasn’t sure after Saturday’s game what Kinsler’s status might be for Sunday’s 8 p.m. series finale on ESPN.

Around the horn

Avila came to bat in the sixth, needing only a triple for the cycle. He has not had a triple since 2013.

And he wasn’t banking on one Saturday.

“I don’t know,” he said, dryly, “if I have the legs for that.”

...Justin Verlander’s five strikeouts Saturday gave him 2,251 for his career, moving him past Eddie Plank and into 53rd place on big-league baseball’s all-time whiffs list.

...Cabrera’s homer Saturday was his 451st. It leaves him a single homer shy of Carl Yastrzemski’s 452, 37th in big-league history.


Twitter: @Lynn_Henning