ARLINGTON -- The focus on Austin Jackson's inside-the-park home run Friday was the way Jackson gained speed rounding second and left Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler with almost no play short of a perfect throw home. Manager Jim Leyland went out of his way to praise third-base coach Gene Lamont's early, decisive call to send him home.
It was an avenue into Leyland's defense of Lamont, who has taken his share of criticism from fans this year on runners thrown out at home plate.
"There's not a better third-base coach in the American League than Gene Lamont. That's all I know," Leyland said. "I'll argue that with anybody. I don't use the word best, but there's nobody better than him. He's good.
"He knows the runner. He knows the outfielders. He has the ability to make a split-second decision. He knows the score. He takes chances when you're supposed to take chances -- and you are supposed to take chances."
Lamont is one of three coaches, along with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon and infield coach Rafael Belliard, who have been with Leyland through his entire seven-year tenure in Detroit. He's Leyland's longtime friend, and he's regarded as Leyland's closest confidant on discussing in-game decisions. Essentially, he's Leyland's bench coach, but in a bigger role.
He takes chances, Leyland said, but he wants his third-base coach taking chances.
"People don't realize, in actuality, when the game starts, the third-base coach is the one most important coach you've got," Leyland said. "Everybody focuses on hitting coach or pitching coach. But when the umpire says, 'Play ball,' the third-base coach is the most important coach you've got. Trust me.
"I've been there. I've gotten them thrown out. I've made mistakes, like all third-base coaches do. But I know one thing: Never in my 21 years of managing in the Major Leagues have I ever gotten on a third-base coach. If you find that a manager's on his third-base coach, then he should get a different third-base coach, because the third-base coach will get so jittery worrying about making a mistake."