Detroit — If you can stay in the battle long enough, you are bound to start winning some.
Eric Haase is living proof of that. So are the Tigers.
After a few frustrating weeks of hitting line drives right at defenders and having his long fly balls settle into fielder’s gloves on the track or at the wall, Haase broke out in a big way.
He hit his first home run of the season, delivered a clutch, go-ahead, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth and knocked in five runs as the Tigers beat the New York Mets, 6-5, at Comerica Park Wednesday afternoon in Game 1 of a doubleheader.
“We’ve been having our opportunities,” said Haase, who served as the designated hitter in Game 1. “We’ve had guys on base and haven’t been able to capitalize on those opportunities. Thankfully today I had some pitches over the plate and I was able to come through.”
Haase came to bat in the eighth with runners at second and third and two outs and facing veteran right-hander Adam Ottavino. Mets pitchers had dispatched 16 Tigers’ hitters in a row before Matt Vierling cracked the seal with a one-out single. He got into scoring position and changed the tenor of the inning on the next pitch when he stole second.
Ottavino hit Javier Báez, who also had a big day at the plate, and then both runners moved up on a ground out to first base by Riley Greene. In his previous at-bat, Haase had been punched out on three pitches by right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis. It didn’t seem like the matchup with Ottavino would be any easier on the right-handed hitting Haase.
“In that situation, I couldn’t really be patient,” he said. “With those guys sitting out there (in scoring position), I was ready to go from pitch one and get something I could handle.”
Haase jumped a first-pitch sinker from Ottavino and laced it into right-center field.
“Just watching the other at-bats, I could tell he liked his sinker,” Haase said. “I made up my mind that if I got a sinker I could handle, I was going to try to be aggressive. And that’s what ultimately happened.”
Alex Lange, who is slowly but surely working his way into the closer’s role, locked it down in the ninth for his fourth save. Lange hasn’t allowed a run in his last 10 outings, posting 16 strikeouts.
“This is what this team is about,” Haase said. “It’s the way our roster has been created, just to keep constant pressure on teams. We’ve been creating good opportunities for ourselves. Hopefully was can keep pushing through.”
Haase and Báez both got off the home-run schneid.
Haase had gone homerless in his first 70 plate appearances before he lined a sinker from Mets lefty starter Joey Lucchesi into the plants above the right-field wall with two on in the first inning.
“Obviously I wish it came a couple of weeks ago,” Haase joked. “But at the same time, I didn’t hit these balls any harder. I didn’t do anything different. It only went a little higher and in a different spot.”
Báez, the former Met who has hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games, locked onto a first-pitch breaking ball from Lucchesi and drove it 434 feet into the seats in left field for a solo homer to lead off the third. He had gone 100 plate appearances without a homer to start the season.
“His focus has been exceptionally good these last couple of weeks,” manager AJ Hinch said. “His defense has been really good. His base running is always good minus the mishap in Toronto (when he lost track of the outs). Javy is a really good player.”
Báez also singled, was hit by a pitch and scored three runs in Game 1. In the 14 games he’s played since he was pulled from the game in Toronto, he’s hitting .346 (18 for 52), with 11 RBIs and he’s scored nine runs.
“He’s got a microscope on him every day, but this locked-in version is pretty exciting,” Hinch said.
The Mets brought some firepower of their own to this one, as the ball was jumping despite the chilly, wet conditions. Tommy Pham and Mark Canha hit solo homers off Tigers’ starter Joey Wentz in the second inning and then, in a three-run fifth, Francisco Lindor hit a second-pitch changeup from Wentz into the seats in left field, putting the Mets up 5-4.
But the killing blow ended up being just a lousy single.
“If a single is good enough to win the game, that’s good enough,” Hinch said. “I’m not that fixated on the home runs. Haasey won the game with a single. You always have to remind yourself that it’s not always about those numbers.
“It’s about the timing of your hits and where you are hitting the ball.”