Back from concussion, Boston catcher empathizes with counterpart Avila
DETROIT -- David Ross has nothing but sympathy for players who sustain head injuries on the field of play. He's been there before and knows firsthand just how devastating the effects can be on someone's career.
Boston's catcher went through the frustrating recovery process earlier this year when he had to miss more than two months with a concussion. The symptoms were expected to subside quickly but instead lingered and almost completely derailed his season.
Ross understands the potential hardships, but he's not about to shy away from contact and change the way he approaches the game. If there were any doubts about that, they were erased during Thursday's Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, when Ross was involved in a pair of hard collisions at the plate.
"Once I step onto that field, I'm not worried about getting injured," Ross said after the Red Sox's 4-3 victory over the Tigers, which put Boston one win from the World Series. "If you play scared, or not to get hurt, you're probably going to get hurt."
The first incident involving Ross occurred during the bottom of the first inning, when Detroit's Jhonny Peralta hit a single to left. Miguel Cabrera made an ill-advised decision to try to score from second base as the throw came in from left field.
Ross received the ball in plenty of time and blocked Cabrera's path to the plate. The catcher would later say there was time to get out of the way and make a swipe tag, but if Cabrera had slid, Ross didn't want to risk missing the tag, so he stood his ground.
Cabrera didn't back down, either, and ran into Ross, who was able to hang onto the ball. That not only saved a run for Boston but also ended the inning and helped left-handed starter Jon Lester escape a serious jam on the mound.
The next inning, a similar play unfolded with Ross on the basepaths after he recorded an RBI double to help spark a key rally. Ross later advanced to third and tried to score on a grounder hit to Tigers second baseman Omar Infante.
Detroit catcher Alex Avila received the ball early, and it appeared as though Ross was going to be out by several feet. That's when natural instincts kicked in and prompted Ross to get low to the ground and lead with his shoulder in an attempt to knock the ball loose.
Both Ross and Avila went flying, but the ball stayed put and resulted in an out. There was no word after the game about a head injury, but Avila did leave in the fourth after straining the patella tendon in his left knee on the play. Ross definitely felt pain of his own, but that wouldn't change the way he approached the difficult situation.
"We had the contact play on, I saw him go to Omar, I ran as hard as I could, he blocked the plate -- same thing I did with Cabrera," Ross said. "Right now, you don't want to take anything for granted. If I try to swipe tag Cabrera, he slides underneath me. I blocked the plate and made him come get me.
"He hit me pretty good. It's a good baseball play; same thing with Alex. I respect the guy a lot. I'm just trying to make something happen. He tagged me out, and that's part of the game."
When Ross realized he had been called out on the play, he immediately gave Avila a friendly tap on the backside. It was one veteran catcher acknowledging the other after a play whose dangers only they could truly understand.
After the game, there didn't appear to be any ill will from either side about the incident. Both catchers have dealt with concussions in the past, and they even had a conversation earlier in the week about their past health issues.
Ross and Avila still don't know each other very well off the field, but once they get between the lines, there's nothing but respect. That's why Ross felt it was necessary to show a friendly side to his competitive nature, even during the heightened intensity of a postseason game.
"I just told him, 'Hey, man -- didn't give me a choice. I was just going hard,'" Ross said. "He understood, I think. ... He knows what I've been through and I know what he's been through. It's one of those things."
Ross certainly influenced Thursday's game with his body, but he also helped changed the game with his bat. His RBI double was a turning point during Boston's three-run second inning, and he added a single in the fourth to round out a strong night at the plate.
The 36-year-old Ross is a career .237 hitter and certainly has never been known for his offensive prowess, but in this case, he also proved he can't be taken lightly.
"I've felt better since I came off my concussion," said Ross, who was absent from late June until late August. "I feel a lot better. I didn't want to get down on myself. I knew I was better than I was playing. I played well, had the concussion and went through a stretch where I didn't know I was concussed. I wasn't seeing the ball at all.
"It's something I always have to work on; I'm not a great hitter. I feel like my bread and butter is catching and throwing, calling a game and handling a staff. But I try really hard at hitting and I pride myself on not giving away at-bats. It was nice to get some hits tonight."