Riley Greene drilled a leadoff triple to straightaway center field.
The ball was hit with a 105.7 mph exit velocity, traveled 413 feet and would’ve been a home run in 22 ballparks. The rookie immediately scored on Javier Báez’s sacrifice fly in the first inning.
But Greene saved the big fireworks for the ninth inning.
The 21-year-old blasted the second pitch he saw from Kansas City Royals right-handed reliever Joel Payamps with one out in the ninth. The ball traveled 432 feet to the shrubs in center field to give the Detroit Tigers a walk-off 4-3 victory over the Royals at Comerica Park.
Greene’s homer — the first of his MLB career — followed a game-tying blast to right-center from Victor Reyes off Payamps, negating what was otherwise a frustrating performance for Tigers bats against struggling left-hander Kris Bubic and the Kansas City bullpen.
Both Reyes and Greene clobbered second-pitch fastballs.
The win put the Tigers at 30-46 and restored their two-game lead over the Royals (28-48), in the cellar of the American League Central. Detroit failed to put a runner on base in the seventh and eighth innings before its sudden rally.
Greene finished 2-for-4 with a home run, triple, walk and strikeout. He scored three of the Tigers’ four runs.
In 12 MLB games, Greene is hitting .302 with three extra-base hits, three RBIs, 10 walks and eight strikeouts. He has a .434 on-base percentage and .442 slugging percentage, for an .876 OPS.
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Entering Saturday’s start, Bubic had a 7.45 ERA with 23 walks and 33 strikeouts in 38⅔ innings this season.
He posted a 4.62 ERA through five starts in June.
Against the Tigers, Bubic allowed two runs on five hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 4⅔ innings. He recorded 10 swings and misses: five fastballs, two curveballs and three changeups.
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In the first inning, right-hander Beau Brieske loaded the bases after facing four batters: Whit Merrifield (single), Andrew Benintendi (walk), Bobby Witt Jr. (flyout) and Vinnie Pasquantino (walk).
Pitching coach Chris Fetter emerged for a mound visit.
On the next pitch, Hunter Dozier smacked a fastball into left field for a two-run double. Dozier put the Royals ahead 2-0, but Brieske answered by recording the final two outs without further damage, including a strikeout of MJ Melendez with his changeup.
Brieske fired 27 pitches in the first inning.
Beau Brieske battles
After a messy first, Brieske locked in and carried the Tigers through the sixth inning. He didn’t have a good feel for his slider, meaning he couldn’t rely on that pitch as he typically does against right-handed hitters.
The 24-year-old threw 14 sliders.
He recorded just one whiff with his developing slider.
Brieske clawed through his 13th MLB start with a heavy fastball-changeup mix, which aided him against lefties. For his 82 pitches (50 strikes), he tossed 40 four-seam fastballs (49%), 17 changeups (21%), 14 sliders (17%), nine two-seam fastballs (11%) and two curveballs (2%).
Brieske — bouncing back from his 27-pitch first inning — needed nine pitches for three outs in the second inning. He worked around a walk and a single for a 13-pitch third inning.
He allowed three singles in the fourth, including a line-drive RBI single to Merrifield. Michael A. Taylor, who opened the frame with a single and advanced to third base on Nicky Lopez’s single, scored for a 3-1 Royals advantage.
Most importantly, Brieske finished strong.
He retired the final eight batters he faced: two in the fourth, all three in the fifth and all three in the sixth. Brieske dominated the Royals during his third time through the lineup and tossed six pitches in the sixth inning.
Brieske gave up three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts in six innings.
Keeping it close
The Tigers scored their second run in the fifth inning, sparked by Greene’s full-count walk. Miguel Cabrera moved him up to third base with a slow-rolling, two-out single into right field.
Greene scored on Eric Haase’s single.
He cut the Tigers’ deficit to 3-2.
An opportunity to jump in front appeared in the sixth inning, when the Tigers turned to pinch-hitter Spencer Torkelson — replacing lefty Kody Clemens — to face left-handed reliever Amir Garrett with a runner on base and one out.
Torkelson popped out in foul territory, but Victor Reyes extended the inning with a walk. Greene then struck out looking on a full-count fastball from Garrett that ended up below the strike zone.
As for the Tigers’ bullpen, right-hander Alex Lange and left-hander Andrew Chafin pitched perfect seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Lange racked up two strikeouts; Chafin struck out the side.
Righty Joe Jiménez tossed a perfect ninth without a strikeout.