It was nail-biting time in the ninth inning at O.Co Coliseum. The Detroit Tigers were holding on to a precarious 3-2 lead, and the largest baseball crowd in Oakland since 1994 was reinvigorated after A’s slugger Yoenis Cespedes’ seventh inning two-run homer landed deep in the left-field seats. Tigers manager Jim Leyland sensed the urgency as far back as the eighth, calling on closer Joaquin Benoit for a four-out save. And that set the stage for a bizarre beginning to the final inning.
With left-handed batting Brandon Moss leading off for Oakland, Benoit went on the attack and eventually won the battle with a swinging strikeout. However, the filthy strike-three pitch bounced in the dirt well in front of the plate and eluded catcher Alex Avila. Since it wasn’t caught cleanly, it’s a live ball. Since it’s a live ball, Moss was free to run it out and attempt to reach base.
But those facts weren’t the biggest issues for Detroit. The issue was Avila had no idea the ball bounced about 20 feet back toward the pitching mound. This allowed Moss a head start, but a hustling Benoit saved the day by running the ball down and making a strong throw to first for the out.
Score it 2-1-3, with Benoit getting the rare assist on his own strikeout.
Ok, the last time a guy was thrown out 2-1-3 on a strikeout was … never?
— Dave Brown (@AnswerDave) October 5, 2013
It's happened a few times, but never at a moment this important. It wasn't just an out for Detroit, it was a tone-setting out that prevented Yoenis Cespedes from batting as the winning run. Benoit would ultimately win that battle, too, striking out Cespedes even more dominantly than he did Moss.
But a base runner there (and likely a pinch-runner) forces Benoit into the stretch and an entirely different approach. In fact, it changes the complexion of the whole inning. As it was, Benoit mowed them down, striking out the side to earn his first postseason save.
It will go overlooked in the highlights and box scores, but Benoit's quick-thinking assist may be the little detail that truly saved the game for Detroit.