Baseball in Detroit: April, May, June, July, Avila, September, October
Poor Chris Narveson.
Unfortunately for the Brewers’ pitcher, the story about him having to leave the game due to a bent fingernail (seriously) just so happened to come across my Twitter feed shortly after Alex Avila took a foul ball in the neck off the bat of B.J. Upton.
Yeah, you heard me – in the neck. Down he went. It didn’t look good. And a quiet panic set in as the umpire signaled frantically to the dugout for a trainer. Avila lay facedown in the dirt.
We watched. And waited.
Narveson’s lame excuse for an injury would never fly with the Tigers – not with a player like Avila around. The guy is just rock solid. Victor Martinez hurt his knee a few weeks back and Avila has caught the last 17 games– including a 14-inning battle in Cleveland (with a two-hour rain delay) that lasted into the wee hours of the morning.
And then he got up and caught the next game.
We haven’t had a backup catcher since Martinez got hurt. Okay, so that’s not entirely fair – we’ve got Don Kelly. But he admitted on Monday that the last time he caught – the only time he’s ever caught in the majors – he couldn’t walk the next day. And he’d only been in for six innings. So. Like I said. No backup catcher.
Jim Leyland has said that Brandon Inge, the third baseman called-up just last week from Toledo, is his emergency catcher. So, Brandon and I would like to take this opportunity to say to you, Alex Avila, “Stay healthy, my friend, stay healthy.”
But Avila refuses to play like he’s a catcher without a safety net. He’s taken a beating behind the plate – foul tips to the wrist, hand, mask, instep, you name it – and he’s gone on the attack, guarding the perimeter when the enemy has threatened. At least twice this month he’s been tackled (and, no, neither runner scored, thank you very much). And Avila just keeps going. Throwing guys out. Hitting home runs. Blocking the plate. Night after night.
He’s a monster.
They’ve tried to come up with a nickname for him. “Titanium Catcher.” “Iron Man Avila.” And I like both of those. But nothing seems to come close to describing the phenomenon that is Alex Avila in August. He’s an animal. Ferocious. Vicious. And yet, somehow, levelheaded. Genius.
He is currently Major League Baseball’s most lethal hitter. Seriously. He leads the league this month in batting average (.429), on-base percentage (.544) and slugging percentage (.794), giving him an OPS of 1.338. Add to it the fact that he’s caught every game since August 5, and you’ve got one insanely good catcher. From here on out, the month of August will be known as “Avila” – get used to it.
Admittedly, it was only when I was looking up those stats that I noticed just how good Avila is offensively on the year. He’d started off strong, but his slump in July led me to believe he’d gotten way off track and lost a lot of ground. Not true.
Among the American League batting leaders, Avila is in the top 10 on the season in OBP and SLG, and, therefore, OPS. Despite hitting only .197 in July, he still leads all catchers – across both leagues – in every major offensive category for the season.
So what do you call the guy who plays hard every second of every game? Who you expect to roar instead of talk? Who convinces you day in and day out that he could survive a nuclear explosion – or single-handedly prevent one? Maybe it’s not a name at all. Maybe it’s more like a sound – something guttural and indistinct.
Or maybe, in our best James Earl Jones voice, we simply call him “Ah-vee-lah.”
Or is it a whisper?
There’s been some talk about Justin Verlander and his chances for the MVP award (in addition to the Cy Young) this year. Please, don’t get me wrong here, Verlander is amazing and his contribution to the team can’t be denied. But, yes, I am of that school of thought. Verlander isn’t out there every single day … like a certain catcher we’ve been discussing. Probably not gonna happen, I know. But the criteria for MVP voting remains the same as it did back in 1931, and includes the following (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort. So if anyone in a Tigers uniform should win that award, it should be Avila.
Notice I didn’t go so far as to suggest we just start calling him “MVP.”
Although, that could work …
Not ten minutes after Alex Avila took that bullet to his mask and neck, he was back behind the plate. Everybody breathe. Titanium Catcher. Game on. Play ball.
Verlander would later jokingly tell him to stop delaying the game.
And, as for Chris Narveson …
I know fingernails are important for pitching and all, of course – who doesn’t – but seriously, man, come on. Suck it up.
(You’re embarrassing the team.)
You might upset the (Ah-vee-lah).