Detroit — This is how legends start.
Riley Greene stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday. Victor Reyes had just dramatically tied the score at 3 with a no-doubt home run to right-center field.
Greene had already crushed a ball to the wall in center field, a 413-footer in the first inning. The ball stayed in the park and he rolled into third base with a triple.
Earlier in the day, he had to answer questions about this being his 12th big-league game and he hadn’t yet hit a home run, and had, in fact, only one extra-base hit. Never mind that he had reached base safely in 10 of his first 11 games, with hits in eight of them.
“I was not anxious about that at all,” Greene said. “Homers are going to come. You try to hit homers and you’re not going to swing the bat good.”
With the crowd and the Tigers’ dugout still buzzing from Reyes’ homer, Riley took a first pitch sinker for a ball from Royals reliever Dylan Coleman and then pulverized a 96-mph four-seam fastball.
The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 108.4 mph and traveled 432 feet into the shrubbery beyond the wall in center field at Comerica Park. Greene’s first career home run is a walk-off winner, 4-3 Tigers.
“I didn’t really know if it was going to go,” Greene said afterwards. “Just because of that hit in the first inning. I barreled that one up and I was like, ‘How did that one not get out?’ But I hit it good.
“Once I saw it go out, it was awesome. Just the adrenaline rush going through me. I didn’t know what to do.”
Greene was mobbed by his teammates at home plate, drenched with Gatorade and nearly beaned with a Gatorade jug.
“That was really fun,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “It was fun to see our guys let loose. I think we made it through without anyone getting hurt by the Gatorade jug.”
The Tigers seemed dead in the water coming to bat in the ninth. They frustratingly let struggling Royals starter Kris Bubic off the hook, scratching out just two runs off him in 4 2/3 innings. They hadn’t had a hit since the fifth and trailed 3-2.
“It’s part of the game,” Greene said. “We’re not always going to come out and bang. But Rey-Rey hit the homer and he gave me a shot. It’s just like passing the baton down the line. Just get it to the next person. I’m really big on that.
“It was an awesome feeling. It feels incredible. Just going to keep it going tomorrow.”
Two huge swings erased about 17 innings of offensive futility for the Tigers against a Royals pitching staff that came into the game with the highest ERA in the American League (4.91).
“I just thought we were giving ourselves as many chances as we could,” Hinch said. “But you can only say that so many times.”
The sell-by date had passed. They scored one run, going 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position Friday night. Then to almost flat-line against Bubic, a lefty who entered with a touchdown-sized ERA (7.45) — well, it was looking grim.
Bubic hadn’t induced a lot of chase (18.5%) or swings and misses (18.4) this season. He came in with a high walk rate of 5.4 per nine innings and a hard-hit rate of 47.7% which is in the bottom 6 percentile in baseball.
He’d been tagged for 16 runs in his previous five starts covering 20 1/3 innings.
He was a pitcher you’d expect the Tigers to do damage against.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Royals 3
And they didn’t do nearly enough. They chased him out of the game with two outs in the fifth but only managed two runs.
Greene scored both of those runs. Javier Baez plated him with a sacrifice fly after his first-inning triple. And in the fifth he walked, went to third on a two-out single by Miguel Cabrera and scored on a single by Eric Haase.
“To me, the mood has always been fine,” Hinch said. “These guys have been pretty consistent. But it erupted late. Victor started it and Riley walked it off. That was the most excited I’ve seen the dugout in a while.”
As unfulfilling as the Tigers’ at-bats were against Bubic, they were still very much in the game. That thanks to rookie right-hander Beau Brieske who fought through some stressful early innings and ended up grinding out six and earning a quality start.
His command was spotty in the first three innings. He’d walked three batters in just three of his first 12 starts. On Saturday, he walked three in the first three innings—two in a two-run, 27-pitch first inning.
“That first inning was ugly,” Hinch said. “He had a hard time throwing strikes. It was difficult at that point. It was, ‘How long is he going to last?’ He could have completely gotten away from him.”
But it didn’t. Brieske gave up a third run on three singles in the fourth inning, but locked it down, retiring the final eight hitters and getting the Tigers through six innings.
“He has shown this resolve, that he can bounce back after a little bit of adversity,” Hinch said. “I think he speaks to how he approaches every inning as his own little challenge. I’m proud of him for that.
“Every time you question him, he bounces back and does well. That’s a good sign.”
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Relievers Alex Lange, Andrew Chafin and Joe Jimenez would dispatch the final nine hitters in a row. Chafin struck out the side in the eighth. He and Lange combined for five straight punch-outs.
“Riley just keeps getting good pitches,” Hinch said. “He had real good at-bats the whole day. His triple in the first was a good answer and sparked the dugout after we fell behind.
“And he did not miss that last one. You don’t see that a lot. In my short time here there haven’t been many that go out to the bushes. Fun day. Good win.”