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Big League Stew

Royals relay nails Prince Fielder at home on dramatic game-ending play

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

If you're a fan of wild finishes, we had a dandy for you in Detroit on Saturday night.

The Detroit Tigers entered the home half of the ninth inning trailing the visiting Kansas City Royals 1-0. The game's lone run to that point coming when Eric Hosmer tripled home Alex Gordon in the first inning. After Prince Fielder walked leading off the ninth, Royals closer Greg Holland bounced back to retire Victor Martinez and Andy Dirks without an advancement from Fielder. That left the less than fleet footed Tiger 270 feet from scoring the tying run, and the fate of the game in the hands of Omar Infante.

On a 2-2 pitch, Infante came through by lacing the ball over the head of Gordon in left field and up against the wall. Easy extra bases for Infante, but there were two questions immediately going through the minds of everyone watching. First, would third base coach Tom Brookens send Fielder home with a strong armed and able defender like Gordon playing the ball off the wall? Second, if the first answer is yes, would Fielder have enough fuel in the tank to make it safely?

It turned out the answers were yes and no. Brookens waved Fielder home without any hesitation. Meanwhile, the Royals were executing a perfect relay. Gordon’s pick up was smooth and his throw to cutoff man Alcides Escobar was on the money. Escobar's relay throw to the plate was slightly offline, but in plenty of time for catcher Salvador Perez to apply the game-ending tag.

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(USA Today)

Just like that, Kansas City escapes with a heart-stopping 1-0 victory. And just like that, the questions and second guessing were already underway.

The first logical question: Was it a wise decision to send Fielder home not only knowing there was a plus defender in left field, but also knowing his base runner lacked speed and couldn't make up for it by adjusting or creating an advantage with an athletic slide?

The easy and most likely answer, he was just trying to be aggressive and force Kansas City to make an excellent play under pressure. In that case, Brookens probably figured you take your hat off to the defense and live with the result. But there is something to be said for being more conservative when you only have one game out left to play with. It's easier to be aggressive with one or two outs in the ninth inning, or even with two outs in any inning prior to the ninth. It's the ultimate risk, though, when you're down to one bullet.

This time, it didn't pay off for Brookens or the Tigers, but manager Jim Leyland won't be holding it against his third base coach.

The point on Holland is a good one, too. It makes the next question a little more interesting though.

Why didn't Jim Leyland pinch-run for Fielder representing the game-tying run?

I'll let Jim answer that himself, courtesy of Matthew B. Mowery on Sulia:

"No. No, I don’t run for Prince Fielder. The only reason I run for Cabrera now is because he’s had the injury. But Cabrera and Fielder, I never run for, unless Cabrera’s in the situation he’s in. Obviously, I run for Victor."

When asked if Leyland didn't want to lose Fielder's bat in extra innings, the Tigers skipper responded.

"Well, no. I’m not taking Prince Fielder out of the game. I’m not going to do it. It’s just the way it is. I’m not going to run for him. I won’t take Miggy out when he’s 100 percent healthy. Victor’s really the only guy that you slam-dunk run for, for me. That’s the way I do it."

That answers that. Pinch-running for Fielder simply isn't an option for Leyland. It may seem a little misguided and perhaps even stubborn on his part, but Leyland sticks to his guns and makes no excuses about it. It's a respectable stance.

Of course there were more than a few emotional reactions going on in the visiting clubhouse as well. Royals manager Ned Yost gets quote of the night for his retell.

It's interesting. Much of the focus will go on Detroit's failed decision, but let's not forget how important a win this was for Kansas City. We may not be used to it yet, but at 78-70, they're still in thick of the AL wild card race at 3 1/2 games back.

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