Michael Lorenzen’s perfect game was gone.
And in a blink, so was the Detroit Tigers’ lead.
Suddenly, stunningly — the Tigers were trailing the Chicago White Sox, 3-2, in the seventh inning on Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park.
In years past, this team would have rolled over, packed up their bats and called it a day.
Then, the wildest thing happened. Something that underlines all the progress and development that is happening behind the scenes. With one out, Zach McKinstry homered to right. Then Riley Greene doubled to deep left center, Spencer Torkelson doubled to center and Eric Haase flared a ball into short center, driving in another run.
It just kept happening — whack, whack, whack — like this wild hit parade.
FROM THE INFIELD TO THE MOUND: Why Tigers’ Zack Short felt ‘the most nervous I’ve been for a baseball game’
The next inning, the parade continued: Jonathan Schoop doubled to open the inning, and then, with one out, Zach Short homered for the second time in a week — put on that Red Wings helmet, Shorty, grab a stick and shoot that puck in celebration.
Suddenly, stunningly — just like that — the Tigers had a 7-3 lead, and an inning later, a 7-3 victory.
“We had a lot of really good things happen today,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said, “and we created them. It wasn’t just something that was given to us.”
No, it was earned in the batting cage.
Do you know who were the silent heroes of this game?
Credit should go to the Tigers’ new hitting coaches: Michael Brdar, Keith Beauregard and James Rowson, who have slowly transformed this offense. They have tweaked mechanics, pumped players up with confidence, stressed a disciplined approach and improved this offense.
McKinstry has turned into a hit machine. Over his past 11 games, he’s hitting .355 while reaching base 25 times in 45 plate appearances.
Akil Baddoo is swinging loose and hot — he has reached base in seven of his past nine games, with a slash line of .348/.500/.652 and driving in eight runs — while causing havoc on the bases with his speed.
Torkelson has been crushing the ball, even when it doesn’t always find grass.
And Greene has been hitting at a ridiculous level. He is playing like an All Star.
“Those guys are great,” Greene said about the hitting coaches. “They’re amazing. They’re a big reason why things are happening to this team in my opinion, just because they’re so good. They’re always positive. They’re always there for us whenever we need anything. They’re just awesome.”
New hitting department has been a hit
When these coaches were hired, it was billed as a “Hitting Department.”
And maybe, that is part of the success.
Having three different coaches.
Three different strengths.
“They mean a lot to us,” Torkelson said. “I think there’s just so many different languages that they speak and there’s three of them. If there’s something that J-Row says that doesn’t click with me, but Brdar or Keith can say it in a different language, that works for me.”
These coaches are doing more than teaching hitting.
“They’re therapists,” Torkelson said. “They’re like a psychologist; they’re the hype guy.”
And it’s clearly working. You can see the growth among individual players.
“I’ve learned trying to hit homers, every time, really doesn’t work,” Greene said, smiling. “Trust me, it doesn’t work. I feel like when I got in trouble a little bit, last year, I started pressing. I wasn’t appreciating my singles as much. I was hitting a bunch of singles and then I was like, alright, I want to hit more doubles and more homers. So I started trying to go for it. And that’s when I went downhill.”
It doesn’t take much imagination to think that he is repeating what he’s heard from the coaches.
Now, he’s going for singles. Appreciating the singles.
And the doubles happen, like on Saturday.
“I felt like that was me maturing,” Greene said, in a reflective voice.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Greene has now hit safely in 23 of his past 27 games.
Since April 26, he leads the American League in batting average, at .349.
And it all starts with those coaches.
“The energy is always high in the cage,” Greene said. “We walk in there, we got loud music playing. They’re all jumping off the walls, like they’re ready to go. And they all specialize in different things. Brdar is really good at the video side, the technical side, mechanical side. Keith is really good on approach. And then I mean, J-Row is really good at keeping your confidence up. He’s super-smart with all that stuff, with approach, with mechanics, with everything. They fit each other very well, and I love every single one of them as a hitting coach.”
Creating a consistent approach
Maybe, another secret to this hitting department is having a consistent approach.
These coaches are the same if they win or lose.
On Saturday morning, the Tigers were coming off a bad 12-3 loss. But nobody was freaking out.
And they brought the same energy.
“They’re the same three guys in that cage, no matter what,” Short said. “Friday night, we got our butts handed to us. But they have same energy — it’s a new day, new opportunity. They are not too high. They are just the same.”
But nothing about this offense feels the same.
Guys are walking.
Guys are getting on base.
And guys are doing damage in clutch situations.
Case in point: Saturday’s comeback.
As the Tigers inch toward first place in the American League Central — they’ll enter Sunday two games back of the Minnesota Twins — a few things are obvious:
The Tigers are in this position because they have gotten some great pitching performances, whether it’s the starters or the bullpen.
But the next time you see a Tiger put on a Red Wings helmet in celebration, give some credit to the hitting department.
They do a little bit of everything. They are hype guys. Psychologists. Communicators. Not to mention, three talented hitting coaches.
MORE FROM JEFF SEIDEL: How Zach McKinstry went from ‘the kid in the dirty uniform’ to a productive Tiger
Contact Jeff Seidel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.