DETROIT — As Red Sox catcher David Ross and his brown-gray beard barreled down the third base line, Detroit catcher Alex Avila stood his ground just in front of home plate. A jarring, joint-crunching, catcher-on-catcher collision was guaranteed.
And when Ross carried his running momentum into Avila the hit proved every bit as painful as expected. Avila was pushed back with his left knee bending awkwardly underneath his body. A left knee patella tendon strain would force Avila out of the game in the fourth inning.
After the Tigers’ 4-3 loss to the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS Thursday night, Avila harbored no ill will toward Ross for the second-inning play. He even said he would have done the same, if the roles were reversed.
“I’ve had a lot of big guys hit me, so that’s part of the game,” said Avila. “He’s doing everything to try and get a run. I’m trying to do everything I can to stop it. I didn’t think it was a dirty play at all. It was a good, hard play.”
Detroit manager Jim Leyland also didn’t blame Ross for the collision.
“David really did the only thing he could do,” said Leyland. “I have absolutely no problem with that. It’s a tough play for a catcher. Basically, if you’ve got time, you hope you can sometimes step off to the side and tag him as he’s going by. [If you can do that], it’s probably a little better. But sometimes you don’t think about that.”
The Tigers have listed Avila as day-to-day, meaning he might not be available for Game 6 at Fenway Park on Saturday. While Leyland said that he hoped Avila would be ready, he added that he was “not really sure about that at this point.” Avila dealt with the same injury in 2011 and expressed more confidence that he would be back on the field at Fenway.
“Obviously, [how it feels Friday] will tell me a lot,” said Avila. “I’ve dealt with it on and off over the last three years. I’m familiar with it.”
When asked about his treatment plan leading up to Game 6, Avila added: “Some strong painkillers and most likely . . . I’m planning on playing on Saturday.”
Avila has been one of Detroit’s more productive players in the ALCS, going 3 for 12 with a home run, three RBIs, and four walks. In 102 games this season, Avila hit .227 with 11 home runs.
Avila also took a foul tip off his catcher’s mask Thursday night, but it was the earlier knee injury that left him limping and struggling behind the plate.
“I tried to stay in a couple innings after that [collision],” said Avila. “It was hurting me pretty good. Skip just wanted to make sure I was going to be alright. I didn’t have much mobility back there. It was hard to move around. But Skip just felt that it was best to get me out and get me right for the next game.”
In fact, as soon as the collision occurred, the Detroit coaching staff told backup catcher Brayan Pena to get ready.
“I’m always ready because it’s baseball and the position that we play is a really tough position,” said Pena. “It’s one of those positions where you can get hurt in a heartbeat. I didn’t want to get into the game under these circumstances and Alex getting hurt, but it’s my job. I went out and I gave my best.”
Avila is no stranger to getting hit by foul tips and runners sprinting for home plate. He missed almost three weeks in August recovering from a concussion. And there could be a highlight reel of all the pain he’s suffered at the plate in recent games, including fouling a ball of his foot. Pena went so far as to comment, “I’ve never seen anybody take the beatings that Alex takes.”
When asked what keeps him fighting through the pain, Avila said, “You see how our pitchers are pitching, that’s a lot of motivation. I like to be a part of that. Also, this team, a lot of players around the league will tell you that you’re not going to have opportunities like we’ve had the last three years, as good as we’ve been. So, coming to the ballpark every day is something I love doing, especially on the team I’m on. I want to make sure I take every advantage of that and be out there. But it’s a tough position. I knew that going in. So, I guess I’m just able to shake it off.”