Greene nearly brings Tigers back, but comes up just short

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Riley Greene has assembled a highlight reel of catches in Comerica Park’s spacious center field. He just made a 110-foot dash and diving grab on Alex Bregman’s drive to deep right-center field to deny an RBI hit Tuesday night, hours before he crushed a 3-0 pitch from Astros reliever Ryan Stanek in the eighth inning Wednesday afternoon.

For a moment, Greene’s drive looked similar to the 432-foot walk-off homer he hit into the center-field shrubs against the Royals for his first Major League homer on July 2. But from the moment it left the bat, Astros center fielder Chas McCormick was tracking under it. Once he arrived at the fence, he reached up — not over the fence, but near the top — and corraled the ball as Greene watched around second base in astonishment.

“It’s a game of inches. I should’ve hit it harder,” Greene said. “It kind of comes down to that.”

What would’ve been a go-ahead homer in 28 of 30 Major League parks — Arizona’s Chase Field is the other exception — was instead a 424-foot inning-ending out in the Tigers’ 2-1 loss to the Astros, completing a season sweep (seven games). According to Statcast, it’s the longest out by distance in the Major Leagues this season.

“I love the 3-0 swing, even the pitch selection, the aggressiveness, just not the result obviously,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It didn’t even really tease me. Nothing really does to center here. … I think Riley having the confidence to swing like that and hit it where he did is a good approach, good hitting. Definitely would’ve changed the game.”

However, Greene knows better than to complain, at least publicly. The same deep dimensions that have given him chances at running catches at — or in some cases into — the fence also takes away homers.

“It’s going to happen,” Greene said. “It’s just the park we play at. If we go somewhere else, maybe it’s a homer, maybe it’s not.”

This is how it works at Comerica Park, which holds four of the five longest outs by distance in the Majors since 2020. Two of the other three were hit by opposing players and were caught by Greene’s predecessor in center field, Derek Hill. All were hit in that same general area, between straightaway center and the left-field fencing that was added to shorten the left-field dimensions in 2003.

Even Wednesday, the dimensions worked in the Tigers’ favor. Trey Mancini’s 423-foot drive to nearly the same spot in the fourth inning off Tigers rookie starter Joey Wentz would’ve been a home run in 27 other ballparks. Instead, it was a double that Greene played well off the wall.

Mancini moved to third on a wild pitch, but Wentz struck out Christian Vazquez and McCormick to strand him there, part of five strikeouts Wentz posted over four-plus innings of two-run ball against an Astros lineup that taxed the lefty for 27 foul balls over 91 pitches.

“I thought I battled hard when I needed to,” said Wentz. “I thought I threw the ball pretty hard. Can live with the [Kyle Tucker] solo homer.”

While there has been buzz over the years that the outfield dimensions are up for further discussion — owner Christopher Ilitch has referenced potential ballpark renovations going forward without getting into specifics — it comes with an obvious tradeoff. The same vast outfield that has kept Tigers drives in the park from Miguel Cabrera and others, has also worked to the advantage of Tigers pitchers, around whom Detroit has focused its rebuild. That doesn’t mean it will never happen, but it explains the trickiness of the debate beyond simply rewarding hitters for well-struck balls.

The Tigers have hit 26 of the 55 outs of 410 or more feet at Comerica Park since Statcast began tracking in 2015. Opponents have hit 29. This season, Detroit has hit three of four, including two this series. Spencer Torkelson hit a 415-foot out to left-center in Monday’s 7-0 loss, denying Detroit what would’ve been a three-run homer in the opening inning off Framber Valdez.

“That topic is such a big topic, especially around this ballpark and in the time that I’ve been in this organization,” Hinch said. “I haven’t really thought a lot about it. Obviously, we play 81 games here. You see it’s the same every day. We can complain about it, we can pout about it, we can wonder what-if. But it’s our park, so we need to play the dimensions.”

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