DETROIT -- Akil Baddoo was back in the Tigers' clubhouse by the time AJR’s “BANG!” played outside at Comerica Park, but his impact was still being felt.
To say Baddoo haunted his old team with a grand slam might be a dramatization given the Tigers' 15-6 loss to the Twins on Monday at Comerica Park. Minnesota fared fine without him, but Detroit’s rookie outfielder continues to make an impression, both with his new team and in the record books.
“It was a tough loss today,” Baddoo said. “I was just glad I was able to put a good swing on it and keep the rally going.”
Baddoo was a Twins prospect until the Tigers selected him in the Rule 5 Draft in December. His Major League debut on Sunday marked his first game above the Class A level, and his first regular-season game at any level since May 2019, playing in Minnesota's system with Class A Advanced Fort Myers and manager Toby Gardenhire. And yet, the 22-year-old continues to hit well beyond his experience level.
On a day when Twins slugger Nelson Cruz hit his 21st and 22nd career home runs at Comerica Park, Tigers starter José Ureña threw just 39 of 81 pitches for strikes and utility infielder Harold Castro was the only Detroit reliever to retire the Twins in order, Baddoo made sure Detroit went out with a bang.
“Clearly, that was the highlight of the day, offensively, for us at the end,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “Hopefully we can take that momentum that we had and bring it into tomorrow.”
The grand slam was more history for Baddoo, who hit the first Major League pitch he saw out for a solo homer on Sunday. He’s the first Tiger to homer in each of his first two Major League games and the first player in MLB history to homer out of the ninth spot of the batting order in his first two career games. He’s also the first player in Tigers history to hit a grand slam within his first two games.
Again, Baddoo went out to the opposite field, sending a Randy Dobnak sinker out to left with Baddoo's family in the stands behind the plate. It was one of the few fastballs Baddoo saw all day; the Twins had the advantage of both seeing his aggressiveness Sunday and the track record of having him in their system for five years.
“Definitely a little bit more offspeed; [they were] challenging me with offspeed pitches a lot,” Baddoo said. “I’m sticking with my approach, thinking up the middle and putting a good swing on the pitches I get in the zone.”
Baddoo swung and missed at three splitters from Twins starter and Michigan native Matt Shoemaker in his first at-bat in the third inning, but the third one bounced past catcher Ryan Jeffers. Baddoo took off for first and beat the throw, losing his helmet along the way. His helmet flew off again when he took off for his first Major League stolen base.
“I need to figure something out, because it’s annoying,” Baddoo said of the helmet. “My helmet’s coming off every time I’m running. We’ll definitely figure something out, but it’s working so far. It makes me look like I’m going fast.”
Baddoo worked his way into a fastball count against Shoemaker his next time up in the fifth inning, shrugging off a slider and a splitter to get a 2-1 pitch over the plate and lace it back up the middle. The 107.8 mph liner was one of three consecutive line drives off Shoemaker after his 5 2/3 hitless innings.
Baddoo saw only one pitch over 86 mph from Dobnak during his next at-bat, fouling off a slider before hitting a changeup back to Dobnak for an eighth-inning out. That seemed likely to be his final at-bat until Detroit rallied in the ninth.
Five consecutive Tigers reached base after Dobnak retired Detroit’s first two batters of the inning. Dobnak, trying to close out the game, tried to get Baddoo to chase a sinker off the plate but couldn’t. With Dobnak’s pitch count rising, the right-hander challenged Baddoo with a sinker over the plate and paid for it.
Baddoo knew it was gone off the bat, having hit it at 107.9 mph. Unlike Sunday, he didn’t flip the bat; he simply rounded the bases.
“It was kind of the same swing, same pitch,” Baddoo said, “so I had a good idea.”