'Incredible send': Inside-the-parker wins it!

August 28th, 2021

DETROIT -- Five days after Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th career home run, the Tigers produced another historic homer at the Blue Jays’ expense. This one might have had as much to do with a coach as a hitter.

Never in MLB’s expansion era (since 1961) had a player hit an inside-the-park home run to pull his team in front in a pinch-hitting situation. Then ’ sinking line drive bounced past Jays rookie center fielder Josh Palacios.

Reyes has played enough games in the vast outfield expanse of Comerica Park to know what that meant.

“This ballpark is pretty wide,” Reyes said through a translator after legging out the Tigers’ 2-1 win. “A lot of things can happen when the ball goes through the outfield.”

Tigers third-base coach Ramon Santiago was thinking of one of them as Reyes sped around second base in the eighth inning.

It wasn’t what manager A.J. Hinch was looking for when he sent Reyes to the plate to hit for Zack Short leading off the eighth inning against Tim Mayza. He just wanted a runner on base. He got more than that.

“Incredible send by Santi,” Hinch said.

Santiago never hit an inside-the-park homer during his 13-year Major League career, which included 10 seasons in Detroit, but he has seen enough games here to know what happens when a ball gets by a diving outfielder and starts rolling. The out-of-town scoreboard is so deep in right-center field, it has been a graveyard for many would-be traditional homers. For a ball like Reyes’ liner, it was a green light, and it might as well have been across the river in Canada.

“It’s bold to understand how far that ball can go,” Hinch said. “It’s hard to see how far that ball went. Is it going to get to the wall? To the track?”

Right fielder Corey Dickerson finally tracked down the ball on the warning track before it could hit the wall, but Reyes was flying by then.

“I thought I was going to be able to have a triple,” Reyes said. “But as soon as I was running towards third base, I saw Ramon Santiago waving at me and sending me home. So I ran as fast as I can.”

Santiago was Detroit’s third-base coach last year under then-manager Ron Gardenhire. The Tigers liked him there, but he moved back to his previous role as first-base coach under Hinch, who opted for more experience with Chip Hale. Hinch loved Hale’s aggressiveness, and wanted to use it to set a tone for the rest of his staff.

“To me, third-base coach is a huge spot,” Hinch explained last weekend. “It’s the only other coach that makes a decision on the field other than the manager.”

When Hale left at midseason to become head coach at the University of Arizona, Hinch wanted Santiago back at third, rather than bringing in somebody from outside.

“His fearlessness at third base, his feel, his guts, his awareness has all impressed me in the first few weeks on the job,” Hinch said, “and that comfort level came back very quickly.”

Friday’s emphatic wave was an example of all of that, and a microcosm of the Tigers’ philosophy under Hinch. Reyes’ hustle gave Santiago the option. Santiago’s read and willingness to risk the cardinal sin of making the first out of the inning at home plate gave Reyes the chance.

“We always preach aggressiveness. It’s what we do,” Hinch said. “We want to risk something in order to get the benefit. And having missed on the opportunity [earlier], I thought it was an incredibly bold send ...

“The anticipation at the end of that play felt like it was going to take forever. We were just like, ‘What’s going to happen?'"

The depth of that outfield again became apparent as second baseman Marcus Semien waited for Dickerson’s throw to bounce to him. Semien’s throw home sailed to the backstop as Reyes slid headfirst into home plate.

“Very big credit for [Santiago],” said Reyes, who said his only other inside-the-park homer came in the Minor Leagues. “He had the play right in front of me. He made the decision to send me home. He has all the credit for that.”

It ended up deciding what had been a pitching duel for six innings between Tigers rookie starter Matt Manning and Blue Jays lefty Steven Matz, who had given up Cabrera’s 500th homer in Toronto five days earlier. Manning set a career high with five strikeouts, four of them to end innings with runners on base.

It was a game one swing could decide. Nobody figured on that kind of swing, or that kind of run.