“They just told me to keep my eyes closed,” Baddoo said, “and you’ll be OK.”
He had just been chased down and mobbed between first and second base, where his teammates — none as young as him at 22 years old — were eager to celebrate. Baddoo roped a walk-off single to right field in the 10th inning, providing the Tigers with a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park.
In his third MLB game, Baddoo added yet another accolade to his already impressive big-league resume: two homers and now a walk-off hit. Yet he couldn’t have played hero Tuesday without the help of his teammates.
“We’re pretty proud of him,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “You know, a lot of things had to set him up for that moment. He gets the final punch, but there were a lot of good blows that we delivered today.”
There were so many moments.
To name a handful: Casey Mize’s four innings of one-run ball; a pair of crucial RBIs from Robbie Grossman in fourth and fifth innings; Gregory Soto’s scoreless ninth and 10th innings; and defensive gems from Jonathan Schoop and Jeimer Candelario to cut down runners trying to score.
“We played a quality game, all the way around,” Grossman said. “Made some big plays when it was needed. … I felt as good as I have this year at the plate today. I’m just looking forward to getting here tomorrow and keeping it going.”
Let’s start in the 10th inning, with Harold Castro — representing the game-winning run — standing on second base. For the second year in a row, a runner must start on second base for each additional inning after the ninth frame.
The first batter, Candelario, battled against right-hander Hansel Robles for nine pitches. This was one of the most important at-bats of the game, as the Tigers needed their everyday third baseman to advance the runner.
Candelario grounded out, but tt was just enough to push Castro to third base. Then, the Twins decided to intentionally walk Grossman with two outs; he advanced to second base on the first pitch to Baddoo.
“Once I saw the first two pitches and the intent behind them, I said, ‘OK,'” Grossman said. “I heard him scream (intentional walk) to Kerwin (Danley, home plate umpire), and the rest is all Akil Baddoo.”
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Let’s go back to the top of the 10th inning, with runners on the corners and one out for Twins outfielder Byron Buxton. He hit a chopper to Candelario, who immediately threw from third base to home plate to get Jorge Polanco out trying to score. It would have been the go-ahead run.
But the throw was perfect.
Wilson Ramos’ tag — even better.
Those instincts kept the game tied with two outs. Back in the fifth inning, second baseman Jonathan Schoop cut down a run in the same way, only with Grayson Greiner applying the tag.
“The guys responded with perfect timing, perfect execution,” Hinch said. “There’s a very small margin for error when they run on contact. You got to make a good throw, secure the play at home. Both catchers held their ground during tough slides. You get big outs.
“There’s a reason you’re playing in there, and that’s to put pressure on the other side and also prevent runs. And by doing that, we left ourselves with a chance to win the game.”
Let’s not forget about Soto.
After Candelario’s bang-bang play at third, set up by Soto inducing a ground ball, the Tigers still needed one more out to complete the top of the 10th inning.
The Twins elected to use Andrelton Simmons as a pinch-hitter.
The Tigers were determined to ride it out with their closer of the future on the mound. He already got through the ninth inning unscathed.
Soto and Simmons clashed for seven pitches, reaching a 3-2 count. The final offering, an 88.8 mph slider, got Simmons to swing and miss. Soto celebrated by dancing and screaming on his way back to the dugout.
The threat was over.
“He’s got a resilient arm,” Hinch said. “I thought he handled himself very well in the strike zone. First and third there, being able to collect yourself, throw a quality strike, keep the ball on the ground. There’s a lot to like today. His stuff is really electric.”
There were other key moments, too, such as JaCoby Jones’ fourth-inning catch against the center field wall with the bases loaded. And Niko Goodrum’s three-hit performance out of the leadoff spot. And Michael Fulmer’s strong two innings as a reliever. The Tigers worked deep into at-bats against Twins starter J.A. Happ, elevating his pitch count to chase him after four innings, despite his success.
Without top-notch base running, outfield positioning, defense and staying sharp during each moment the ball was in play, the Tigers would not have won the game. Especially not against a Twins squad projected to finish at the top of the division.
“We did all of that today,” Hinch said.
As the supporting cast delivered, so did Baddoo.
“I’m glad we got the W,” Baddoo said. “That was a great effort. We put a lot in on that one. … We didn’t stop fighting, and everyone was prepared for their moment.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Detroit Tigers’ supporting cast allowed Akil Baddoo to play hero
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