Tigers’ homer celebration gives stick tap to Hockeytown

Detroit Tigers

BALTIMORE — Wrapped in decades of tradition, the Tigers’ color scheme is as time-honored and beloved as any in baseball. Nowhere — not at home, not on the road, not then, not now — does it involve a red helmet.

So why was Zach McKinstry wearing one in the Tigers’ dugout Saturday night at Camden Yards?

Because that wasn’t a baseball helmet McKinstry’s teammates threw on his head after homering in Detroit’s 5-1 loss to the Orioles. It was a hockey helmet — a Red Wings helmet, to be precise — and by the time McKinstry reached the end of the dugout line assembled to celebrate his dinger, he had a stick in his hand and was unleashing a dry-swing slapshot, to boot.

So goes the Tigers’ ice-inspired new home run celebration, which the team debuted on an otherwise dreary evening at Oriole Park. McKinstry’s 410-foot seventh-inning solo homer was pretty much all the Tigers could muster against Kyle Gibson and two O’s relievers, while Joey Wentz fell victim to a four-run third to bear the brunt of Detroit’s third straight loss. The Tigers have now scored just five runs over their last four games, while going 2-for-18 (.111 average) with runners in scoring position during that span.

“I don’t think we were very good offensively,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Not a great night for us offensively. When you look back on it, it was a disappointing night.” 

At least, then, they found a way to make McKinstry’s blast memorable. Dugout home run celebrations are something of a trend in the game right now; earlier this month, the Orioles made headlines after debuting a creative (if controversial) one of their own. The Tigers had been planning to unveil theirs since at least Friday, when Spencer Torkelson was spotted wearing a pair of oversized red goalie gloves during batting practice on the field at Oriole Park. 

Torkelson takes credit for the concept. The hockey stick addition was Riley Greene’s idea.

“Honestly, I felt like we were the only team in the league without one,” Torkelson said. “We were like: ‘Let’s think of something!’”

Torkelson indicated the ritual could evolve over the course of the season. That is, of course, with practice. 

“Hopefully we see it a lot more,” Torkelson said. “Detroit is a hockey town.” 

The opportunities have been hard to come by this weekend against the Orioles’ white-hot pitching staff, which kept the Tigers in the ballpark in Friday’s series opener and piled up 15 strikeouts on Saturday, keeping Detroit off the board outside of McKinstry’s homer. Wentz wasn’t nearly as fortunate. Four of the five runs the left-hander allowed came in Baltimore’s pivotal four-run third, when Wentz’s composure and command unraveled ahead of Ramón Urías’ three-run double.

“They took advantage of the big innings that they had,” Hinch said. “We missed out on ours.” 

Last September, the last time Wentz pitched at Camden Yards, the southpaw spent the evening delivering his best performance in a string of strong starts down the stretch with an eye on the Tigers’ 2023 rotation. Wentz returned this weekend an active member of that rotation in part because of Matt Manning’s recent foot fracture, but his second start at the ballpark took a different turn. Hinch said Wentz would remain in the rotation and take his next turn, which would line him up to start Thursday against the Orioles at home.

“I’m looking forward to getting back out there, have a good bullpen and take care of myself between starts,” Wentz said. “Looking forward to the next one.”

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