DETROIT -- Brad Ausmus is 2-for-2 on wins in his first two games as Tigers manager. He's also 2-for-2 on video replay challenges, including a potential game-saver in the 10th inning of Wednesday's 2-1 walk-off victory against the Royals.
After a review overturned a double-play call at first base on Tyler Collins' ground ball in the sixth inning, it also overturned a Nori Aoki infield single in the 10th inning, thwarting a potential Royals rally before the Tigers won the game in the bottom half.
"Just lucky," said reliever Al Alburquerque, who went from possibly having to face Pedro Ciriaco with the potential go-ahead run in scoring position to instead being out of the 10th inning and in line for the win, which he got once Ian Kinsler singled home the winning run off Tim Collins.
The smile on Alburquerque's face was impossible to hide. If he wasn't a fan of replay before, he's an ardent supporter now.
"It was a good day," he said.
Alburquerque wasn't the only one.
"Obviously today it worked out for us, worked out real well," said closer Joe Nathan, who blew the save opportunity in the ninth.
Both replays were challenges from Ausmus on calls by first-base umpire Chris Conroy, Major League Baseball later confirmed. Though umpires can review plays at their discretion from the seventh inning on, managers can still use a challenge in the late innings if they have one left. Because Ausmus won the first challenge, he still had one for later.
Ausmus was glad he did once Aoki's dribbler to the mound in the 10th seemingly had given the Royals two men on with two out.
Alburquerque had to pounce off the mound to field the ball near the first-base line and throw around Aoki to first. It was a softer throw than normal, Alburquerque said, because he didn't want to throw the ball away. Conroy initially ruled him safe.
While head athletic trainer Kevin Rand came out to check on first baseman Miguel Cabrera while he was limping around after Aoki stepped on his foot, Ausmus went on to check with Conroy. Alburquerque said he didn't motion to Ausmus to challenge; the call was his own.
"I thought he was safe [at the time]," Alburquerque said. "When I threw the ball, I saw him pass the base. But when I saw the replay on the TV, he was out."
Replay showed the throw from Alburquerque beat Aoki's lunge at the bag. The call was reversed within a minute, turning a two-out rally into the end of an inning.
"That's what the system's there for. Both calls went against us but that's what it's there for -- to get the call right," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I don't have any problem with it."
The sixth-inning play in question came when Collins, making his first Major League start, hit a ground ball to second base with runners on first and second and none out against Jason Vargas. Royals second baseman Omar Infante fired to Alcides Escobar for the out at second, but Escobar was pressed to throw quickly to first as Collins charged down the line.
Conroy initially called Collins out, prompting first-base coach Omar Vizquel to protest. He made a safe signal, not to show up Conroy but to signal to Ausmus that it's a play worth challenging.
Ausmus said on Wednesday morning that the sight line from the Tigers' dugout at Comerica Park makes it tougher for him to see a close play at first, compared to his spot in the first-base dugout during Spring Training games at Joker Marchant Stadium. He has talked with his coaches, Dave Clark at third base and Vizquel, about signaling him if it's worth challenging.
There's got to be some type of reaction if the call was missed so I know to at least get the ball rolling [on a challenge]," Ausmus said. "If they throw their hands in the air, I know it's questionable."
Ausmus picked up Vizquel's signal and made his way to first base while defensive coordinator Matt Martin reviewed the replay in his room in the bowels of the ballpark between the dugout and the clubhouse. The call quickly came to Ausmus to use his challenge, which he has to do to have a play reviewed in the first six innings.
Ausmus' previous statements suggested the confidence level had to be high.
"Generally speaking, they say you should challenge anything if [the odds of a reversal are] 50 percent or higher," Ausmus said before the game. "Now, I think earlier in the game, 50 percent is kind of marginal for me, unless there's a run at stake."
Replay showed a close play at first, but Collins seemingly put his foot on the bag just before Escobar's throw hit first baseman Eric Hosmer's glove. After about three minutes of review, the umpires reversed the out call, putting Collins on first base.
Vargas pitched his way out of the jam, inducing a ground ball from Cabrera for an out at home plate, then striking out Victor Martinez to end the inning with no damage.
"You can't blame the guy at first," Nathan said of Conroy. "Shoot, both of those calls by the naked eye when it's going fast, it looks like he's right on both of them. So give credit to the way they changed the game. I've always been a traditionalist. I'm not going to go back and change my mind on this. Hopefully as we go through this process, I think it'll get better and better, maybe quicker."