BOSTON -- Justin Upton's liner down the right-field line hit the Pesky Pole with some authority, beyond the 99.9-mph exit velocity measured by Statcast™. The way Upton saw it, it had to."I thought I'd hit it hard enough that it would run out of time to curve, and that ended
BOSTON -- Justin Upton's liner down the right-field line hit the Pesky Pole with some authority, beyond the 99.9-mph exit velocity measured by Statcast™. The way Upton saw it, it had to.
"I thought I'd hit it hard enough that it would run out of time to curve, and that ended up being the case," Upton said of his fifth-inning grand slam in Sunday's 8-3 win over the Red Sox. "But at the end there, it started to curve quite a bit."
The view from the Tigers' dugout didn't offer any more certainty.
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"From the time it left the bat, I was saying, 'Pesky Pole, Pesky Pole, Pesky Pole, Pesky Pole,'" manager Brad Ausmus said.
The right-field foul pole in Boston got its name from former Red Sox infielder Johnny Pesky, who hit just six home runs for his career at Fenway Park. Upton home runs to right field aren't quite as rare, but they're not hit that often -- Sunday's was just the 20th to right field for his career, according to baseball-reference.com, compared with 214 to every other part of the park. He had just a couple down the right-field line according to spray charts on Statcast™.
As the Tigers packed up to head home in the wee hours of Monday morning, having pulled out a win in a four-hour game to avoid a sweep, they were glad Upton got that one.
"From my angle, it was tailing pretty good," said starter Daniel Norris, who watched from the dugout. "So I was just like, 'Stay fair. Stay fair.'"
As the ball slammed against the Pesky Pole, it took out some of the Tigers' frustration with it. They had the bases loaded with nobody out an inning earlier, but Red Sox starter Thomas Pomeranz stranded them all by retiring the Tigers in order from there. They had runners at the corners and nobody out against Chris Sale on Saturday night, only to watch Sale strike out Nicholas Castellanos, Jose Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
As much as Ausmus avoids putting too much on one midseason game, this was big.
"For Upton to come up with the grand slam, that was the big hit we'd kind of been looking for the last few days," Ausmus said.
Sunday's fifth inning was a catharsis in that sense. Castellanos, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning but was robbed of a single up the middle by Xander Bogaerts in the third, reached on an errant throw by Bogaerts leading off the fifth. Cabrera, mired in a 3-for-23 slump, smacked a 107-mph drive off the Green Monster, but hard enough that he was held to a single.
After a Victor Martinez fielder's choice, J.D. Martinez walked to load the bases for Upton, who hadn't hit a grand slam in two years but had two singles already. In came reliever Richard Hembree.
Upton saw four straight sliders, taking two for balls and swinging and missing on the others. With a 2-2 count, Hembree went to a 96-mph fastball.
"It was elevated enough, and I got enough barrel on it," Upton said. "Take them how you can get them. We haven't been getting the big hit. We've put ourselves in position to score, just not executing when we get the opportunity."
By executing there, Upton turned what had been a one-run lead into a five-run advantage, and a sigh of relief was let loose in the Tigers' dugout.
"That was huge," Norris said. "We needed that, for sure."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.