Detroit — The winning hit for the Detroit Tigers on Friday night was all about making the most of opportunities.
Victor Reyes, pinch-hitting for Zack Short leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, hit a sinking liner that Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Josh Palacios charged and dove for in an attempt to snare just off the grass.
But he missed it completely and it rolled.
Reyes has good speed and a triple was a certainty. But Detroit third base coach Ramon Santiago saw a lack of crispness in the relay throws, and waved Reyes home at the last instant.
Reyes made it with a bit to spare, sliding head first and getting the plate with his hand for the deciding run in a 2-1 victory.
“I was very happy,” Reyes said through an interpreter. “That was the first one in my career. But what’s most important is we got a win.”
Reyes became the first major leaguer since 1961 with a pinch-hit, inside-the-park homer to put his team ahead. Ben Oglivie is the only other Tiger with a pinch-hit inside-the-park homer, getting his June 2, 1976.
Reyes credited Santiago for his quick observation and sending him home.
“He has the whole credit for that,” said Reyes.
Tigers manager AJ Hinch summed it up:
“It’s an incredible send by Santi,” he said. “It’s bold. It’s hard to see how far that ball got. Does it get to the wall? (Right fielder Corey) Dickerson did a good job of backing up and getting to the ball. But we preach aggressiveness. That’s what we do.
“Reyes was running the bases hard from the very beginning, and the anticipation at the end of that play, it felt like it was going to take forever. You saw the bounced throw to (second baseman Marcus) Semien and Santi had already ‘wheeled’ him, and the high throw to home, and he makes it safe.”
That made the Tigers (62-67) winners on a night when rookie starter Matt Manning continued his ascent as a formidable pitcher, and Miguel Cabrera got a big hit after receiving a touching pre-game tribute to his 500th homer.
Manning faced one of the game’s most powerful lineups — with its 1-2-3-4 hitters owning between 20 and 36 homers apiece — and allowed just one run over six innings.
“He was impressive and had a very mature outing against a very good offensive club — an aggressive team, a young team that comes out swinging for damage,” Hinch said.
Manning pitched tough in this one.
He got out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the second inning by getting the final out on a called third strike against Reese McGuire. He also limited the damage after Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., doubled for one run in the third.
“He didn’t panic,” Hinch said. “He didn’t alter his game plan.”
Manning, making his 12th big league start, now has three consecutive effective starts during which he’s posted a 3.24 ERA. And he continued being particularly impressive at Comerica, where he has a 2.93 ERA.
Prior to the game, Hinch told reporters Manning’s “confidence has grown” since learning that “his best stuff is good enough” to get out major league hitters.
“With every outing,” said Manning, “I’m getting more comfortable. … getting less nervous.”
Hinch stressed that Manning “finished extremely hard” and has earned the right to longer outings because of that. Manning completed six innings for the third time with the Tigers, but has not gone beyond that.
“I’m very proud of him,” Hinch said. “He’s taken great steps forward. He pitched out of any traffic he had.”
Cabrera got Manning the game-tying single in the fourth inning, scoring Jeimer Candelario after he’d hit a ground-rule double to center.
Cabrera was given a pre-game scoreboard tribute to acknowledge the historic 500th homer he hit Sunday, Aug. 22, at Toronto.
The highlight was having his wife, Rosangel; son, Christopher; and daughter, Isabella, turn over the three numbers on the “Miggy Milestones” countdown above the outfield brick wall to reveal “500.” The homer he hit Tuesday in St. Louis to make it “501” was then recognized.
Cabrera walked out of the dugout during the standing ovation to acknowledge the Comerica Park fans with a wave of his right hand while holding his bat in his left hand.
It was a nice moment.
Prior to the game, Cabrera, seated in the dugout before batting practice, joked with two stadium workers, saying, “Paint the 5,” in reference to replacing the “4” in “499” on display next to the hits total, now at 2,959.
“Wasn’t that cool?” asked Hinch. “We had told Miggy that the Tigers wanted to do something special for him, and to make sure that he went to the dugout. He was hitting fourth in the bottom of the first, and I wanted to make sure he wasn’t in the cage. I didn’t want him to miss it.
“But I don’t know that 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, to see his kids up there, his wife up there, who have been with him along the way, to be able to change those numbers.
“It was so nice to see that smile on Miggy. He comes out, gets the curtain call at home, and shared a moment with the fans who’ve supported him for so many years. Good moment for us. Good moment for him and his family.”
All-Star closer Gregory Soto came on to record his 16th save of the season in the ninth after Reyes put Detroit in a position to win. Soto benefited from a good running catch near the fence in left by Robbie Grossman and a solid play by third baseman Candelario coming up clean with a hard-hit grounder down the line before throwing to first.
Around the horn
The Tigers designated veteran reliever Ian Krol for assignment after the game to make roster room for Saturday starter Jose Urena, who is coming off the injured list.
Krol, a left-hander on his second stint with Detroit, had a 5.11 ERA and 1.865 WHIP in 12 appearances. He struck out 10 and walked five in 12.1 innings.
Urena (2-8, 6.19) has been out since July 17 with a right groin strain.