NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson wasn't even a full-time player in the Major Leagues when he hit the first -- and, until Friday night at Citi Field, the only -- walk-off home run of his career with the Tigers in 2005.Granderson's game-ending blast leading off the bottom of the ninth
NEW YORK -- Curtis Granderson wasn't even a full-time player in the Major Leagues when he hit the first -- and, until Friday night at Citi Field, the only -- walk-off home run of his career with the Tigers in 2005.
Granderson's game-ending blast leading off the bottom of the ninth against the Dodgers, a scorched hooking shot into the seats beyond the right-field corner off a 97-mph fastball from reliever Pedro Baez to give the Mets a 6-5 win, was more than 10 years in the making.
Naturally, much has changed for Granderson since Sept. 26, 2005, a game in his early days in Detroit -- only his 50th in the Major Leagues. Still, he remembers that first one well.
"Against the White Sox. I remember exactly when that was. I had just made my second stint in the big leagues," Granderson said. "Not as many fans at that moment, because it was towards the end of the season. And we as a team weren't playing very well."
That's about as far as it gets from his homer in New York, which revitalized a packed house of more than 43,000 after Los Angeles rallied for four runs off closer Jeurys Familia in the top of the ninth.
The 2005 Tigers, who finished the season 20 games under .500, were still letting their 24-year-old outfielder get his feet wet in the big leagues. Now, in his 13th season, Granderson's role is to catalyze the offense of a team in baseball's biggest market, coming off a World Series appearance and facing huge expectations in 2016.
Even with the gap in years and in role, though, Granderson's first and second walk-off home runs had one piece in common: Both times, he jumped on a pitch leading off the inning, a representative marker of Granderson's value to his team.
Granderson has always had that ability to spark his team out of the leadoff spot -- his 39 career home runs leading off a game are second most among all active players -- and he said Friday that he always has the same approach when he leads off an inning. Often, the spark has come in the first inning, like when Granderson popped a leadoff homer as the first batter Max Scherzer faced following his 20-strikeout game. Friday, like in 2005, it came in the ninth.
Granderson always keeps an even keel, manager Terry Collins said, one of the reasons why Collins' club feels he's so well-equipped to handle duties at the top of the lineup. It doesn't matter if Granderson is slumping -- he was hitless in his last 11 at-bats, including three strikeouts on Friday, which had dropped his batting average below .200 when he stepped to the plate in the ninth.
"He's a professional. He just handles things real well," Collins said. "That's why he brings a lot to the team, because he's just the way he is."
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @_dadler.