Avila's big day sets tone in Tigers' win
Rookie catcher collects first hit, calls Porcello's 10th victory
DETROIT -- As Alex Avila headed into second base on his RBI double Thursday, most of the eyes in the Tigers dugout were focused on one place. They were mainly looking upstairs.
It was Alex Avila's first Major League hit, and a meaningful one in the early-inning surge that sent the Tigers to their 7-3 win over the Orioles Thursday. But it was Tigers vice president Al Avila's moment.
"That was quite awesome," the elder Avila said of watching his son collect his firs big league hit. "And embarrassing, too."
He'll gladly take it. He'll welcome the point when his son's big games come as more of a routine. So, too, will the Tigers.
"I'd like to think that he probably enjoyed that moment," the younger Avila said with a smile.
Avila made it to the Majors before even spending a full year in professional ball. Yet somehow, the 22-year-old made his Major League debut catching a pitcher nearly two years younger than he is.
Together, their performances set some milestones. While Avila became the first Tiger with two hits in his debut since Brent Clevlen in 2006, Porcello (10-7) became one of just three pitchers in the past 22 years to post double-digit wins in a season at age 20 or younger, and the first since Seattle's Felix Hernandez in 2006. No Tiger had done it since Dave Rozema was a 15-game winner in 1977.
"I'm definitely honored to be mentioned in that category," Porcello said. "I'm definitely more happy to help the team out, help us try to stay in first place."
Considering Porcello had won only one of his previous six starts, it was a bit of a long road to get there after getting to the eight-win mark by June 18. He took a no-decision in his previous start last Saturday at Cleveland thanks to a blown save, but Detroit's early offense Thursday made sure he was in line for a positive result.
As Porcello and Avila agreed, they made a pretty good tandem.
After sending down the top third of the O's lineup in order for the first time all series, Porcello got on a roll, retiring 13 of the first 14 batters he faced. Not until Ty Wigginton's bloop single fell into short center field leading off the fifth did Porcello allow a hit.
"I was just trying to throw strikes early and not fall behind guys," Porcello said. "Those two starts after the All-Star break, I just didn't have good command."
Just as important for Porcello were the secondary pitches.
"The changeup wasn't quite as sharp as it was in Cleveland," Porcello said, "but the slider was definitely a lot better. It definitely helped to keep them off-balance and keep them off the fastball."
That was the game plan Avila and Porcello went over with pitching coach Rick Knapp before the game. The youth, the inexperience didn't seem to matter. As both pointed out of each other, they're mature, pretty relaxed for their age range. "Rick did an unbelievable job today," Avila said. "He really stuck to the game plan we put together. He was able just to throw strikes."
Said Porcello: "He was great behind the plate. He didn't seem like he was nervous at all. He was good back there."
Somewhat surprisingly, Avila seemed just as poised at the plate with a bat in his hands.
After Brandon Inge's two-run homer put the Tigers in front, Avila -- a .264 hitter when the Tigers called him up from Double-A Erie on Tuesday -- battled Orioles starter David Hernandez for eight pitches before watching a fastball hit the corner at 94 mph for a called third strike. He fouled off three pitches, including a curveball with two strikes.
"The one thing I was impressed with him is it looks like he picks up the ball real well when he's hitting," manager Jim Leyland said. "It look like he's got a pretty good eye at the plate, not a lot of movement. And it looks like he recognizes balls from strikes pretty quick. That's a big plus if you can do that."
An inning later, Inge's two out single created a chance for Avila to step in again. Again, he battled for Hernandez for eight pitches, this time fouling off four straight before pulling a 2-2 curveball down the right-field line.
Avila knows where his dad sits at Comerica Park, but he didn't look. His teammates did, pointing to the box.
"It's a great feeling for him," Carlos Guillen said. "He only played one year in the Minor Leagues, and he's up here, getting base hits and an RBI on the first day. He hit the ball hard, had good at-bats, played a great game."
The elder Avila tried to keep it diplomatic, but that was difficult. He was receiving hugs all around, and he wonders if the entire baseball community had either texted for called him about that hit.
"It was just relief, really," Avila said, "relief that he got it under his belt. And really, he's a doubles hitter, so it's a good thing it was a double for his first hit."
Avila added a fifth-inning single, this one straight back up the middle off Brian Bass, before scoring on Curtis Granderson's two-out infield hit.
All in all, it was a good first day at work.
"If his dad's not too cheap, maybe he'll buy him dinner," Leyland joked.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.