Kreidler, on memorable first HR: ‘This is what you play for’

Detroit Tigers

ANAHEIM — Ryan Kreidler couldn’t have asked for a better time or place to hit his first career home run.

Less than a week after he was called up, the Davis, Calif., native followed Kerry Carpenter’s game-tying ninth-inning homer by taking José Quijada’s pitch over the left-center-field wall — much to the delight of his parents and his uncle in attendance.

Gregory Soto ensured Kreidler’s storybook moment would be the game-winning home run by striking out the side in the ninth — including Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani — to close out a 5-4 Tigers victory on Wednesday afternoon at Angel Stadium.

Minutes later, Kreidler stood at his locker — the home run ball retrieved, encased and sitting on the top shelf behind him. 

“It was a super heater,” he said, describing Quijada’s pitch. “They had blown me up inside all day, so I was ready to go. I knew that lefty. I looked for a heater, got a heater and put a good swing on it.”

Kreidler fell a few feet shy of his first homer on Tuesday evening, which instead became his first extra-base hit, and complemented that with a solid defensive play at shortstop. 

The dramatics from Kriedler and Carpenter, plus a 434-foot moonshot from Spencer Torkelson in the fourth — meant that three of four Tigers homers Wednesday were hit by Tigers rookies, doing some to validate Detroit’s youth movement.

“This is a young group who has played together and they’re trying to find their way,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “They’re learning a lot. These are all unfamiliar situations, but they banded together, and today was a good reason why we like these guys.”

Carpenter’s leadoff homer in the ninth was an opposite-field drive that snuck around the left-field foul pole. When Kreidler connected three pitches later, the two became the first pair of Tigers rookies to slug back-to-back homers since James McCann and Jefry Marte did it on July 31, 2015.

“We’re amped up. This is what you play for,” Kreidler said. “Moments like these.”

As for the top overall pick from the 2020 MLB Draft, Torkelson has shown better plate discipline in his five games back in his return to the big leagues and reached base safely in eight of 20 plate appearances (.400 OBP) since his recall from Triple-A Toledo.

Following a walk in the second inning, Torkelson showed power leading off the fourth, launching Patrick Sandoval’s 2-0 pitch over the outside corner 434 feet to straightaway center field at a 105.5 mph exit velocity.

“I saw all of [Sandoval’s] pitches pretty well my first time up,” Torkelson said. “My approach was to get his fastball middle away. I got to a good count and got the fastball where I wanted it.

“I’ve always had the same approach, but [now] it’s just me being more disciplined.”

Of course, there’s still plenty of learning to do. He came up to bat twice more with a runner on base. Both times he worked a favorable count. In the sixth with no outs, he grounded into a double play. In the eighth with one out, he struck out swinging.

The Tigers got some clutch at-bats elsewhere after failing to execute early. Detroit had five hits in the first three innings without anything to show. Torkelson’s homer broke the scoreless tie and once Los Angeles countered with runs against Drew Hutchison and Will Vest, the Tigers got a sixth-inning homer from Eric Haase to highlight his first career five-hit game. Haase also had two doubles and finished a triple shy of the cycle.

Hutchison wasn’t able to give the Tigers the length he normally does. On a day during which game-time temperature was 99 degrees, the veteran righty labored through four innings at 84 pitches — the only significant mistake being a two-run homer from Trout. It was the first time in eight outings Hutchison didn’t go at least five frames.

The Angels regained the lead against Detroit’s bullpen, but Soto maintained the advantage — and his composure — once Carpenter and Kreidler sparked the late comeback.

Soto, who had allowed at least one run in three of his previous four appearances, was effective against the middle of the Angels’ order. After strikeouts of Trout and Ohtani, he settled down from a Luis Rengifo single to fan Taylor Ward. 

“There’s no easy outing for a closer who’s trying to find his way and bounce back after a couple of tough outings,” Hinch said. “Gregory has gotten better at keeping his heart rate down and keeping his emotions in check.”

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