Anatomy of a relay: Tigers execute perfectly

Collins to Kinsler to Wilson cuts down pivotal run at home plate

April 14th, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- Off the bat, the immediate question about Andrew McCutchen's eighth-inning loft to right-center seemed to be whether it would stay in the confines of PNC Park. It did.

As it bounced off the warning track and the fence, with Tigers center fielder Tyler Collins in chase, the RBI part of McCutchen's double seemed like an afterthought. It was hit so deep that any play at the plate on John Jaso coming home seemed like a long shot.

"A play like that, you have to have a lot of things go right," said second baseman Ian Kinsler, whose relay throw beat Jaso to the plate for one of the key outs in a 7-4 Tigers victory Thursday.

For all the admiration of highlight catches and diving stops, the relay remains one of the more underrated plays in baseball for suspense. So many moving parts, so many players that have to do their part before they can touch the ball. That happened Thursday, and it might have saved the game for the Tigers.

Mark Lowe, called on to get four outs while pitching his third game in four days, saved valued pitches. The Tigers, faced with one more trip through the middle of the Pirates' lineup, halted the momentum of a rally.

"That was a break for us, to get Jaso coming to the plate," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It kind of turned that inning around."

New Tigers catcher Bobby Wilson, watching from the plate, saw the play coming.

"I didn't know if [third-base coach Rick Sofield] was going to send him," Wilson said. "I'm glad he did."

The break wasn't simply the ball staying in the park, Kinsler said, but the way it bounced off the fence on the hop. The idea of a perfect, accurate throw from Collins, Kinsler said, is overrated. Getting the ball in quickly is more important.

"Because the faster that he gets it to my area, the more time I have to adjust to it, and I don't have to rush it as much," Kinsler said. "It bounced perfectly to him, he barehanded it, and he's got a really good arm. Just let it go. If it's in the area, it's a good enough throw to make a play on."

Collins not only got it in quickly, his throw came in right over Kinsler's shoulder, allowing him to grab it, turn and throw in one fluid motion.

"I didn't know if they were going to hold the runner up there," Kinsler said. "In that gap, it's always a tough play from that side of the field. T.C. did a great job getting there and getting it in quickly and giving us a chance."

The most impressive part, the Tigers agreed, was Wilson collecting the ball and shifting his glove over as Jaso was sliding by. The play was essentially going past him.

"Since the rule change [on plate collisions], it used to be different," Wilson said. "You used to take away the plate right away. Now it's just a matter of showing the plate and then trying to take it away once you have the ball."

Said Kinsler: "On a play like that, it's always the throw that gets the most attention. The second throw to make the out gets the most attention, but really T.C. has to make the proper play and Bobby has to stand in there and make a great play as a catcher. It's not easy to do."