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Goodrum has 'superhuman' game in hometown

Leadoff hitter goes 5-for-5 with two homers in front of family, friends; 'He won’t forget that one'
@beckjason
June 30, 2019

ATLANTA -- The crowd outside the visiting clubhouse at SunTrust Park packed the hallway. That’s what happens with so many Tigers players from the Atlanta area and neighboring states. But none had a homecoming quite like Niko Goodrum. “Niko was, defensively and offensively, superhuman in his hometown,” manager Ron Gardenhire

ATLANTA -- The crowd outside the visiting clubhouse at SunTrust Park packed the hallway. That’s what happens with so many Tigers players from the Atlanta area and neighboring states.

But none had a homecoming quite like Niko Goodrum.

“Niko was, defensively and offensively, superhuman in his hometown,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Goodrum dreamed of having games like this when he was growing up in Fayetteville, on the other side of town. He was born and raised during the Braves’ heyday of division dominance, and he would go to games at Turner Field any chance he could. Chipper Jones was his favorite player. His family and friends lived his Major League dreams with him, finally realized when he cracked the Tigers’ roster and became a regular last year.

Friday’s 8-2 Tigers win was his night to shine. Doing so in a Detroit uniform, with more than two dozen family and friends in Tigers gear, made it sweeter.

Box score

“I haven’t played in front of the majority of them since I was in high school,” Goodrum said. “A lot of my family can’t travel up [to Detroit]. Being able to go out there and perform, I’m sure they had a good time. It was pretty cool.”

They nearly had history.

Not since 2003, Detroit’s 119-loss season, had a Tiger gone 5-for-5 with two home runs and three extra-base hits. In that case, Dmitri Young needed a double for the cycle in his final at-bat, and he seemingly had it with a drive into the gap, but he kept running for his second triple of the night because he wanted to give the team an insurance run to pair with his go-ahead RBI.

Goodrum stepped to the plate in the eighth inning Friday a triple shy of the Tigers’ first cycle since Carlos Guillen in 2006. He never got the chance to speed up, instead sending his second no-doubt home run of the night into the right-field party area. It wasn’t as far as his third-inning drive, a 419-foot shot to the Chop House off starter Mike Foltynewicz, but it was impressive nonetheless.

“I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball and see what happens,” Goodrum said. “I knew I had a double, a home run and a single. I’ll take it.”

Miggy day to day with right knee soreness

Goodrum led off the game with a bloop single and singled in a run in the fifth. While his two home runs were a display of his surprising power, his seventh-inning double was an example of his opportunistic speed and aggressive instincts, as he motored around first base when he sensed Braves rookie left fielder Austin Riley giving him a chance with his route to the ground ball.

“He’s just flying,” Gardenhire said. “Niko’s all-out. He’s going to try to get to the next base, no matter what.”

This is the athleticism that turned Goodrum from a non-roster invite to a regular player last year, then into a key cog in the Tigers lineup this year. It was by far his best performance since Gardenhire moved him into the leadoff spot earlier this month in an effort to spark a sputtering lineup and a struggling then-cleanup hitter.

“I’ve been battling a little bit,” Goodrum said. “I just didn’t stop working, just trying to improve each day.”

At one point earlier this month, Goodrum swung and missed on eight consecutive fastballs before connecting on one and hitting into a double play. He chased some of those pitches, but in other cases, pitchers were challenging him in the strike zone fearlessly.

“He’s worked really hard, and [hitting coach] Lloyd [McClendon] and them had worked at the top of the strike zone in the cage and all those things,” Gardenhire said. “It just gets down to plate discipline, not trying to do too much.”

Moving up in the order was a tactic to encourage that discipline. The strikeouts still had been piling up -- 22 in 17 games since the switch until Friday -- but the hits were building and the exit velocity was climbing.

“We know he’s a swinger; he likes to swing. He goes up there and has a nice swing from both sides, and he hits the ball hard,” Gardenhire said.

Goodrum actually didn’t see a fastball the at-bat of his first home run. His swing provided the power on a backup changeup from Foltynewicz. His second homer came off a cutter from former Indians starter Josh Tomlin.

The offense supported Spencer Turnbull through six-plus quality innings for his first win since April 30 and the Tigers’ first three-game winning streak in nearly six weeks. But it also supported a family that had supported Goodrum growing up in hopes of a sight like this.

“When you come back and have a night like that, those are special things,” Gardenhire said. “He won’t forget that one, I’ll guarantee. Nor will his family.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.