Lucky No. 13: Haase’s homer lifts Tigers, young fan

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Eric Haase had a lot to enjoy from Saturday’s 3-2 Tigers win over the Twins, from catching a well-pitched game to helping guide some pitchers out of jams to hitting a home run and advancing the eventual deciding run on a deep fly ball. But before he could regroup from the Tigers’ ninth win in their past 11 games, he had to stick around on the field and see someone who had a bigger day — the boy who caught his home run on the fly.

“Yeah, I talked to him after,” said Haase, who autographed the ball for him. “I was down there taking a picture with his family. He was all excited, so it was hilarious.”

As impressive as Haase’s 13th homer of the season was — a 402-foot drive to left field that cleared the visiting bullpen — so was the catch to corral it. The young man brought his glove to the ballpark and felt confident enough to reach over the wall and into the bullpen as the drive came in.

“I didn’t really realize what happened at first, and I heard everyone cheering,” the boy, Owen from Chelsea, told Bally Sports Detroit. “So I look up and I see it flying. And I just stick out my glove, and it lands in it and I start freaking out. …

“I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for 20 minutes.”

Haase didn’t see the catch, but he was happy in his own right. The leadoff homer in the fourth off Minnesota starter Dylan Bundy built a 2-0 lead for Detroit starter Drew Hutchison.

“I hadn’t seen [Bundy] in a long time, and last time I faced him was a lot of sliders and sinkers,” Haase said. “So I understand what he was trying to do right there throwing a lot more four-seams. First at-bat, I was just a little bit late and got a breaking ball that I hit into left field. Just didn’t want to be late anymore and got something I could handle.”

After a two-run Twins rally tied it up next inning, Haase thought he had powered Detroit back in front with his sixth-inning drive to straightaway center, but even as center fielder Mark Contreras tracked it down, the out was deep enough to allow Javier Báez to tag up from first base. That put Báez in position to take advantage and score from second on Luis Arraez’s errant throw on Harold Castro’s ground ball to the right side.

Despite a bases-loaded jam in the eighth against Gregory Soto, the lead stuck. Haase caught a winner, as manager A.J. Hinch likes to say, and he enjoyed his third game in four weeks with three-plus hits. He’s batting .318 (21-for-66) with five doubles, four homers and seven RBIs since Sept. 1. 

Unlike his eight hits over a two-game stretch in early September, Saturday’s three-hit game came against right-handers, a situation in which he has seen more time this season than many would’ve expected.

Haase’s breakout last year came primarily at lefties’ expense; he hit .283 with a .907 OPS off southpaws, compared to .204 and .661 off right-handers. While he’s still batting 34 points higher in average off lefties compared to righties this season, the 34-point difference in OPS is about as close to even as he has been.

“He’s been able to control right-handed pitching a little bit better,” Hinch said. “He has a big swing. He’s got bat speed, he’s got power. It’s kind of a natural look to being a threatening hitter against left-handed pitching. He’s been a little bit better against right-handed pitching and different styles of pitching.

“It’s hard to say he’s grown up a little bit as a 29-year-old, but he’s still very new in his career. I think he’s matured a little bit and finally feels like a big-leaguer.” 

It’s the difference between a platoon player and someone who plays more regularly.

“It’s big. I know how they’re going to pitch me now,” Haase said. “It’s not really a secret. It’s just one of those things: Can I make those adjustments? Can I lay off of spin, or get spin I can handle? I mean, every single guy now throws 100 with a wipeout slider, so it’s just something you just get used to. You might punch [out a lot], but those middle counts where I can just get something to go forward have been big.”

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