Detroit Tigers’ Victor Reyes delivers pinch-hit inside-the-park HR in 2-1 win vs. Jays

Detroit Free Press

A pinch-hit inside-the-park home run.

That’s how the Detroit Tigers came away with a 2-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Friday’s series opener at Comerica Park.

Desperate for a run, manager AJ Hinch called on Victor Reyes to hit for Zack Short — hitting .143 this season — to open the eighth inning against left-handed reliever Tim Mayza. Reyes worked a 1-1 count before drilling a slider into right-center field.

“I thought I was going to have a triple,” Reyes said. “As soon as I was running toward third base, I saw (third base coach) Ramon Santiago waving at me to send me home. I ran as fast as I could to have a home run.”

As the ball skipped underneath center fielder Josh Palacios’ glove, Reyes increased his speed and the fans began to cheer. Santiago, complying with Hinch’s aggressive mindset, never hesitated in signaling Reyes home.

“It’s an incredible send by Santi,” Hinch said. “It’s bold to understand how far that ball can go. Is it going to get to the wall or the track? (Right fielder Corey) Dickerson did a good job of backing up, and he got to the ball. But we always preach aggressiveness. It’s what we do. We want to risk something to get the benefit. I thought it was an incredibly bold send.”

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He scored safely to give the Tigers (62-67) their first lead of the night, which Gregory Soto protected with a perfect ninth inning for his 16th save. Reyes’ heroics marked the first pinch-hit inside-the-park homer since Tyler Saladino accomplished the feat on May 14, 2018, for the Milwaukee Brewers.

It was the first for the Tigers since Ben Oglivie had one on June 2, 1976.

“This ballpark is pretty wide,” Reyes said. “A lot can happen when the ball goes through the outfield, especially in this case that it went through the center fielder. What I got to do is run as hard as I can to get an extra base. In this case, it was a homer.”

Detroit is 53-43 since May 8 and 22-16 since the All-Star break.

Once rookie Matt Manning completed his six innings of one-run ball, the Tigers turned to their best relievers for dominant outings. Kyle Funkhouser pitched a perfect seventh, Jose Cisnero — making his team-high 60th appearance — worked around a two-out walk for a scoreless eighth.

New career-high

Facing a powerful lineup, Manning delivered the best performance of his MLB career in his 12th start. He allowed one run on six hits and one walk over six innings, also setting a career high with five strikeouts.

The right-hander had previously struck out four batters twice: July 21 and July 26 against the Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins, respectively. Manning’s new high in the fifth inning came on a strikeout of Teoscar Hernandez swinging with a slider for the third out.

The 23-year-old threw 58 of 83 pitches for strikes.

“There’s going to be days in the future here where I’m not taking him out of the game with as efficient and as good as he was at the end of his outing,” Hinch said. “The seventh inning is not out of reach for him, but you understand what we’re doing with our pitching this last month-and-a-half or so. But I’m very proud of him. He’s taken great steps forward.”

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Manning faced a test in the second inning, when Corey Dickerson and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. delivered back-to-back singles to open the frame. He used his secondary pitches to retire the next two batters. Palacios grounded out on a changeup down in the strike zone, and Kevin Smith popped out on a slider near the top of the zone.

The next batter, Reese McGuire, struck out looking at a fastball.

“With every outing, I’m getting more comfortable,” Manning said. “Just knowing my execution needs to get better (with runners on base). I don’t need to panic or try to blow the ball past guys. Just make better, quality pitches and let them dictate what goes on.”

The Blue Jays scored their lone run off Manning in the third. Bo Bichette started with a double down the third-base line.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s ensuing one-out double gave the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead. The Tigers countered in the fourth inning. Miguel Cabrera hit Blue Jays starter Steven Matz’s two-seam fastball for an RBI single up the middle, scoring Jeimer Candelario, who had doubled. (Matz gave Toronto six innings of one-run ball.)

Candelario recorded two doubles Friday, giving him an MLB-leading 36 this season. Cabrera now has 2,959 career hits in his chase for No. 3,000.

Manning picked up 10 swings and misses, generating five with his two-seamer, four with his slider and one with his four-seamer. His two-seam fastball maxed out at 97.8 mph, a product of a more aggressive throwing motion, and averaged 94.4 mph.

“I really wanted to get the ball inside and establish that (fastball) inside and own that part of the plate,” Manning said. “I think I did. That helped my slider and my changeup get to the outside.”

Another spectacular catch

In the fourth inning, Tigers center fielder Derek Hill added to his defensive resume.

Hill tracked a 413-foot fly ball from Smith with two outs. He traveled from center field to the deepest part of left-center before jumping at the wall. Hill put his glove over the wall and robbed Smith of a solo home run.

“He’s such a difference-maker in the outfield,” Hinch said. “There were a couple of running catches that get a little bit unnoticed, but we notice them because we know how he commands center field. I’m so comfortable when the ball gets hit to center.”

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Smith’s swing had a .690 expected batting average. It was yet another web gem for Hill against Smith; on Sunday in Toronto, Hill took a two-run double away from Smith with a diving catch in left-center.

Considered the best outfielder in the organization’s system, Hill has made a handful of electric catches over his 33 games in 2021. He also gives the Tigers superb routine plays by taking the best possible routes, reading the ball off the bat and knowing when to boost his speed.

Welcome home

Cabrera returned to Comerica Park for the first time since reaching 500 home runs.

He became the 28th player in MLB history to accomplish No. 500, doing so Sunday in Toronto. That swing came against Matz — the same lefty who started Friday at Comerica Park — in the sixth inning.

Before the bottom of the second inning Friday, Cabrera’s wife and children stood behind the “Miggy Milestones” tracker in left field. The Tigers played the video of No. 500 and his family changed the milestone tracker from 499 to 500 as 17,259 fans roared in excitement. (He tagged his 501st home run Tuesday in St. Louis.)

Cabrera then took a curtain call, waving and bowing to the crowd.

“Wasn’t that cool?” Hinch said. “I don’t know if he knew that his family was out there. By the look on his face, it looked like it was a little bit of a surprise. So nice to see that smile out of Miggy. He comes out and gets the curtain call at home. Got to share a moment with the fans that have supported him for so many years.

“And then he goes and contributes in Miggy-style.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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