The biggest winner from Riley Greene’s Detroit Tigers debut? His pal, Spencer Torkelson

Detroit Free Press

Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson stood on the top step of the Detroit Tigers dugout, waiting to bat — finally, together again.

“Thanks for coming,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said to Greene. “You fixed Tork,”

“Yeah, that’s all he needed,” Greene replied. “He needs me.”

Even though it was a light-hearted comment — fun banter in the middle of a game —there was a hint of truth to it. This was more than Greene’s MLB debut. It was a long-awaited reunion with his best friend, roommate and confidant.

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“I missed him,” Torkelson admitted, after the Tigers rolled to a 14-7 victory Saturday over the Texas Rangers.

The Tigers certainly missed Greene, who had a fantastic debut on Saturday, going 2-for-3 with two runs and two walks. “Typical Riley Greene performance,” Torkelson said. “Not trying to do too much, took his hits and got a couple of knocks out of it. I expect nothing less.”

This is what everybody had been waiting to see. Greene and Tork together in the same lineup. The two first-round picks batting one after the other, and nobody will benefit more from Greene’s arrival than Torkelson.

After Greene broke his foot in spring training, Torkelson made his MLB debut alone. At times, Torkelson seemed lost without Greene, struggling at the plate, missing balls in the strike zone. But all of those struggles disappeared on Saturday, as Torkelson got two hits and knocked in two runs.

It was like a pair of superheroes back together. The dynamic duo. Getting their powers back.

This is what they looked like when they were playing together in the minors.

“Last year when we’re grinding together, through Double-A and Triple-A, this is what we were working for,” Torkelson said. “So to see it come to fruition and get it in a win, this is awesome.”

Back together in BP

During batting practice, Greene walked through the Tigers dugout, mouthing the words of a Drake song playing over the speakers:

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Greene continued to sing to himself as he grabbed his bat and put on a new pair of batting gloves. He has an easy, never-bothered, fun-loving personality.

He bounded up the steps, looking confident. Looking free and easy. Looking like he belonged. He stood next to the batting cage with Torkelson, and they looked so comfortable together, so at ease.

Torkelson and Greene were in the same batting practice group, of course, by design. Everything is by design with Hinch. Torkelson appeared to be working on hitting line drives to all fields. And then Greene started blasting balls to the warning track. Eventually, he started launching them out of the park. One ball hit the brick wall adorned with Sparky Anderson’s name (among others) beyond the right-center fence — an area few reach with so little effort during batting practice.

It was like Torkelson and Greene were in an unspoken competition: Anything you can do, I can do better.

The best kind of competition. The kind that brings something special out of both of them.

And the balls started soaring.

Torkelson burst into a giant smile, and it was like Torkelson was finally relaxing, just being back with Greene.

After batting practice ended, the Tigers walked to the dugout.

“Riley! Riley!” a kid was screaming.

One person held an orange sign: “Welcome to the show, Riley.”

Another held a white sign: “Good luck Greene on your debut.”

Greene walked over and signed some autographs.

“Good luck,” somebody said.

“Thank you,” Greene said.

The kid exudes class.

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I kept thinking back to the first time I saw Greene take batting practice, after he signed with the Tigers.

He put on a show in front of Al Kaline and Miguel Cabrera.

After he was done, Greene went out and picked up balls, which impressed Kaline: “I like him, I like everything about him so far,” Kaline said. “He helped pick the balls up — he didn’t act like he’s anything special.”

Greene is no longer the fresh faced, clean-shaven, 18-year-old. He has a thick beard and a girlfriend in the stands.

But he still picked up balls after BP.

‘The gang’s all here’

During the national anthem, Greene and Torkelson stood next to each other — I guess you’d expect nothing less.

And during the ceremonial first pitch, Greene, Torkelson and Kody Clemens played a quick game of three-way catch in left field. Then the three friends came together and hugged.

“The gang’s all here!” Torkelson shouted to the group, as they held each other arm in arm.

Greene ran onto the field by himself, bent down, took off his hat and said a prayer. “It’s kind of part of my routine,” Greene said. “I do it every game. Just say a little prayer and, you know, got back to warming up.”

Yes, I think we’ll get used to seeing that.

“It’s super awesome that Riley is here,” Clemens said. “He’s gonna bring a little spark to the team.”

Clemens did too, getting two hits and adding two runs.

“I mean, obviously took me 10 times longer than Riley to get my first hit,” Clemens said. “But once you get it out of the way, everything kind of slows down for you a bit.”

A milestone feeling

During the game, Greene’s family and friends sat in the stands behind home plate.

After travel problems, his parents flew from Orlando, Florida, to Pittsburgh and then drove four hours to Detroit.

“It’s very exciting,” Alan Greene, his father, said. “I mean, we’re at Comerica Park. It’s just amazing. It’s a blessing.”

“It was unreal,” Lisa Greene, his mother, said. “It was a great feeling when he got that first hit over with. Now, we can move on.”

Greene showed so many great things in this game. He was patient, relaxed and had a nice approach, sending his second hit solidly the other way into left. But more than anything, he showed that he belonged.

“I’m more impressed by the walks,” Hinch said. “Getting quality at-bats, five or six straight, is pretty awesome. That’s something that we’ve needed.”

For months, this Tigers offense has been hibernating. Or comatose.

But suddenly, this team looked like what we expected before Greene’s injury. Before the wheels came off.

Greene in center. Javier Báez hitting a homer. Robbie Grossman getting on base. Torkelson hitting for some power — he doubled in the fourth, which had Greene banging the dugout net in celebration. And Miguel Cabrera driving in runs.

This is what has been inside this team all season. But it didn’t come out. Not until Greene arrived.

For one game, it felt different. Everything felt lighter. Guys who hadn’t been hitting, suddenly started hitting.

Is that because of Greene? Who knows.

But this felt different. This felt like the day Miguel Cabrera got his 3,000th hit, a 13-0 win on the afternoon of April 23.

Of course, the Tigers lost their next six after Cabrera’s milestone. So there is no telling what will happen next.

But having Torkelson and Greene back together sure feels like a great place to start over.

Finally, the gang’s all here.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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