Jeimer Candelario waited for the fifth pitch from Tampa Bay Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge on Sunday at Comerica Park. The Detroit Tigers‘ third baseman had worked a 2-2 count, fouling off a pair of fastballs and watching a fastball and a slider miss the strike zone.
All he wanted was a quality at-bat.
“That happened,” Candelario said.
Indeed, it did.
There were two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, with the Tigers trailing by two runs in the rubber match of a three-game series against the American League’s best team. The free extra-inning runner, Jonathan Schoop, stood on second base. Kittredge fired a 90 mph slider toward the bottom of the zone, and Candelario decided to swing.
Down to his last strike, Candelario tied the game, 7-7, with a mighty 421-foot home run over the right-center wall and into the seats.
“Really a homer off the bat, a no-doubter,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Sunday. “Candy’s a good hitter. We talk a lot about his power, but it’s still about bat-to-ball. He got the ball in the air and got us back in the game, literally.”
It was the second time Candelario sparked the Tigers in Sunday’s 8-7 win over the Rays, which ended on Robbie Grossman’s bases-loaded walk in the 11th inning.
“Robbie always gives us really good at-bats,” Candelario said. “He knows the strike zone and knows what he’s doing in the box. He always contributes. … That’s a great team, but we don’t put that on our mind. We compete all the time and never quit. That’s what we did today to win.”
Facing Rays starter Luis Patino in the fourth inning, Candelario put his bat into a 1-2 slider. This time, the ball traveled 375 feet to right field. The early homer put the Tigers ahead 2-1, answering a solo shot from Tampa Bay slugger Nelson Cruz in the top of the frame.
Since Aug. 10, Candelario has seven home runs in 30 games.
“Same approach,” Candelario said. “I’ve been working on my craft with my hitting coaches (Scott Coolbaugh and Mike Hessman) and being consistent with my routine. The game plan is paying off right now.”
His two-run blast in the 10th inning marked the third game-tying, extra-inning home run with the Tigers down to their last strike — two strikes, two outs — since 1916. The others: Bobby Higginson (Sept. 14, 1998) and Travis Fryman (March 13, 1997).
In Friday’s 10-4 win over the Rays, Candelario recorded his MLB-leading 40th double. The 40-double mark has been reached 52 times in team history since 1901, but it’s the first of Candelario’s six-year MLB career. His previous season-best was 28 doubles in 2018. (Last season, he had 11 in 52 games.)
“I played against him across the way for a couple years, and I always thought he was a good hitter,” Grossman said. “But in the second half, when he went home for the All-Star break and came back, he had that look in his eye. You could tell he went home and worked on some things, and it’s paying off.”
The 27-year-old — acquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2017 — is hitting .275 with 40 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs, 57 walks and 125 strikeouts over 134 games, helping him to a .350 on-base percentage. Candelario also boasts a 115 wRC+, meaning his offensive performance has been 15% better than MLB average. (The production in back-to-back seasons is why Candelario is a key part of the future.)
“It’s always great to get extra-base hits for your team, getting myself in a good position to score runs,” Candelario said. “That’s how you win ballgames. I will do anything I can to help my team. If a double comes, I will take everything.”
It would have been easy for Candelario — the Tigers’ most consistent hitter in 2021 — to get discouraged at his lack of home runs earlier this season. Before Aug. 10, he only had seven in 104 games. But he stayed focused on his bat-to-ball approach, which continued to provide gap-to-gap doubles power.
On Sunday, Candelario’s consistent approach sent the ball flying over the wall.
“When you hit doubles, home runs will come,” he said.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.