Eighth inning. Runners at the corners. Victor Martinez at the plate. Joakim Soria on the mound. This could have ended differently.
In a 3-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday, the Royals engineered one of their finest defensive plays of the year, pulling off an inning-ending double play to escape a jam in the bottom of the eighth.
As Soria tried to protect a two-run lead, Jorge Bonifacio made a running catch deep in the right-field corner, chasing down a smash from Martinez. Moments later, Bonifacio turned and fired to first baseman Eric Hosmer, who doubled up the runner at first base with a splendid stretch and pick.
“We freaked out,” Royals starter Danny Duffy said. “Full freakout.”
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“People want to talk about Hos’s range all the time,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But where he’s so spectacular and better than anybody in baseball is around that bag. And that was another example of it.”
In the moments after the game, Hosmer and Yost credited Rusty Kuntz, the Royals’ first-base coach and outfield defense coordinator, for shading Bonifacio deep into the corner against Martinez. If Bonifacio was playing in a regular alignment, there would have been little chance for him to make the play.
The Tigers still could have scored one run on the play. By rule, a base runner being doubled off of a base is not technically a “force” play, meaning the runner at third could have tagged and scored if he touched home plate before Hosmer caught the ball at first. But Detroit’s Justin Upton was slow down the line and didn’t score before Hosmer doubled off Detroit’s Mikie Mahtook.
For a moment, Hosmer said, there was even confusion around the Royals’ dugout. But that was quickly cleared up.
“Boni being heads up,” Hosmer said, adding: “I know everybody in the infield was screaming and yelling. It’s great awareness on his part.”