TORONTO — Kevin Kiermaier dives for every ball within the same area code as right field, tries to throw out every base runner and thinks every single is a double and every double is a triple.
He plays with his hair on fire, according to his manager, and, according to his manager, Kiermaier’s hair can keep on burning, even if Kiermaier tends to “over-boggy” it on occasions. Another term from his manager.
“I never ever, ever never want to coach aggressiveness out of a player,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I’d like to be able to help coach cutting down on mental mistakes but never aggressive, physical mistakes. I think the moment you attempt to coach physical aggressiveness out of a player, you’re going to see a timid player who is not the type of guy you can win with, because I like risk-takers. Always love ’em. I want a risk-taker all of the time. I think those are the guys you win championships with.”
Kiermaier recently dived for a ball down the right-field line and missed.
“I’m good,” Maddon said.
Then there was the sinking line drive in the 11th inning Tuesday against the Tigers, the one that hit off his glove and became a triple.
“I was all for it,” Maddon said.
Even when it put the go-ahead run on third base with no outs and a shaky Grant Balfour on the mound, a scenario that quickly went from bad to worse.
“He’s got to keep playing that way,” Evan Longoria said.
And he will.
“The team has my back,” Kiermaier said. “They’ve seen me make some really good plays this year and seen me make some not-so-great plays. But it’s aggressive mistakes, and we can live with that instead of being passive. So I’m not going to change my ways and hopefully come up with more catches like that, and I expect to make them.”
Kiermaier still doesn’t know how he missed that ball against the Tigers, and it still bothers him, but not to the point where he’s dialed it back. Witness his diving catch against the Tigers two days later that helped preserve the Rays’ 1-0 victory in what will be forever known as The David Price Game.
If that first dive was in the back of his mind, if it caused him a moment’s hesitation, he either plays it safe and lets the ball fall for a hit or he dives with less conviction and doesn’t make the catch. With a runner already on second base, who knows what would have happened?
Sometimes it looks as if Kiermaier is out of control, especially when he catches up to a ball hit into the corner or into the right-center field gap, spins and fires it back to the infield ... and misses the cutoff man. Or throws to the wrong base.
Those are the types of mental mistakes Maddon said he’d like Kiermaier to correct. Improving his footwork, setting his feet better to make a better throw.
Other than that, play on young Kiermaier.
“I want my instincts to take over, because I’ve been blessed with really great instincts my whole life out there in the outfield,” Kiermaier said. “So I just have to trust them and make the right decision at the right time. It’s just part of me maturing out there at the big-league level and knowing that there is a time and place for everything.”
Kiermaier was at it again Friday. He turned one single into a double when he caught Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus napping, and he kept running when he blooped a ball over shortstop Jose Reyes’ head for his second double of the night.
“Those were two of the shortest doubles of his life,” Maddon said. “That’s all on him.”
Maddon said he wishes every player treated singles the way Kiermaier treats a single.
Or chases every ball hit at or near him.
Or plays with their hair on fire.
“That’s what we love,” Longoria said. “There’s no need to try and harness a guy like that.”