DETROIT -- Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila stood or crouched at home plate for two crucial aspects of Thursday's game against the New York Yankees -- two aspects which in the long and short of it can be summed up this way:
--Rookie left-hander Kyle Lobstein was short on strikeouts, but took the Tigers a long way toward victory.
--Avila had the shortest at-bat possible in the ninth inning, but delivered the long bolt that gave the Tigers a 3-2 win.
On right-hander Shawn Kelley's first pitch to him, Avila launched a long line drive beyond the reach of Ichiro Suzuki and off the right-field wall. Pinch runner Bryan Holaday scored from second base. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, referring to his final regular-season moment at Comerica Park, said "it would have been an unbelievable catch" if Suzuki had hauled it in.
Avila's drive went down as the Tigers' second game-winning single off the wall in five days. Victor Martinez -- who began this rally with a double -- had a similar long-and-short-of-it drive against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday.
The victory went to former Yankee Phil Coke, his first against his former team, after he got out of a jam in the top of the ninth. But this might be remembered as Lobstein's game. In his first big-league start, he held New York to two runs (one earned) in six innings.
He didn't strike out anyone -- he generated only one swing and a miss -- and the Yankees had some hard-hit balls. But Avila liked what he saw from the 25-year-old left-hander.
"He's not a guy who is going to wow you," Avila said. "He's got good stuff. He's confident in all his pitches that he's able to change speeds enough to induce weak contact.
"He's not going to strike a ton of guys out, but he's going to go after you. What he did today is exactly what I expected. I've caught him a bunch -- I caught him spring training last year and this year a little bit and caught him in the game in Minnesota. He's a breeze to catch.
"When he's right, I could catch him with my eyes closed. He pinpoints, he's got command, and he commands all of his pitches pretty well. When you're able to do that, you have a lot to work with as far as attacking the other team. It was impressive. He's got a calm demeanor. You'd think he's been pitching out there for a few years."
Avila mentioned the game in Minnesota. Lobstein made his big-league debut against the Twins last Saturday, when he threw 5 2/3 innings in relief after an early knockout of rookie starter Buck Farmer. Lobstein and manager Brad Ausmus said after Thursday's game that getting to have his first big-league appearance in relief helped Lobstein feel more comfortable in his first start Thursday.
Martinez began the ninth inning against Kelley by smashing a hard grounder into right through the shift. Martinez said that when he saw that Suzuki couldn't stop and throw right away after fielding the ball, he knew he could make it to second.
Bryan Holaday pinch-ran for him. J.D. Martinez worked from a 2-2 count to a walk. Ausmus didn't ask rookie Nick Castellanos for his first sacrifice bunt of the season.
Castellanos took strike three on a full count. Torii Hunter, batting for Don Kelly, struck out swinging. It was up to Avila with two out. He said he had to fight off over-anxiousness to come through where the two hitters in front of him did not.
"You're human -- you want to get the job done -- there is that anxiousness to do it," Avila said. "But at the same time, you've got to be able to take a deep breath. That's where experience comes in, and you're able to slow the game down. In those situations, you've got to keep it simple.
"It's happened to me many times -- because baseball is human nature – that you'll go into a situation like that and before you know it, it's over. You say, 'I don't even remember having the at-bat.' Sometimes it happens that way to everybody.
"You've got to slow it down. See a good pitch, put a good swing on it. That's all you can control."
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