This Detroit Tigers team is different, and it starts with the magic of Riley Greene

Detroit Free Press

Top of the eighth inning.

The Detroit Tigers down 1 run.

Jake Burger up for the Chicago White Sox, and he crushes the pitch.

Exit velocity: 107.1 mph.

Projected distance: 418 feet, which, in theory, should be a homer in the revamped Comerica Park. But the Tigers have a center fielder named Riley Greene.

A young, fearless, athletic, tremendous player who seems to get better every day.

Greene turns and sprints to the center-field wall — a new wall, brought in to 412 feet and lowered to 7 feet to create this kind of moment — in part, because they have Greene.

THE GAME: Akil Baddoo, Riley Greene drag Detroit Tigers to 6-5 win over Chicago White Sox in 10

HIT PARADE: Why Riley Greene, Zack Short and Spencer Torkelson are ripping the ball for Tigers

Crossing the warning track, Greene judges it perfectly, jumps up, puts his glove over the fence and snags the ball while crashing into the wall — which also came with new padding, thank goodness.

Amazing. Pure robbery.

What an incredible play.

All heart

Remember when scouts said Greene wasn’t athletic enough to play center?

Remember when people wondered how long he’d stick out there?

Ah, yeah, forget it.

Greene is all heart and effort.

Those are the same traits that can be found in many other Tigers — guys who are willing to jump into a wall for a win.

“He’s pretty good,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said about Greene, after the Tigers won it, 6-5, in the 10th on an Eric Haase sacrifice fly. “He’s just, on both sides of the ball, a difference-maker.”

Oh, and Greene can do it at the plate, too.

As if somebody from the Motor City was writing this script, Greene came up in the the bottom of the ninth.

Still down a run.

Greene lined a ball into center. It got past Luis Robert, and Greene streaked around the bases for a triple.

A moment later, Javier Báez knocked him in, tying the game.

The crowd was going crazy, standing and clapping — and so were the Tigers.

“That’s as fun of a clubhouse as you’re going to find,” Hinch said.

MORE FROM JEFF SEIDEL: Meet Justice Bigbie: The sizzling hot Detroit Tigers prospect on a team of studs

First place there for the taking

The Tigers (25-26) are now within a whisker of .500. They have an impressive 9-4 record against the American League Central. And they are 15-9 in May.

Does being above .500 matter?

Of course it does. Not just for the mental hurdle but the excitement.

It’s nearly June and it’s OK for Tigers fans to wake up and glance at the MLB standings.

Spoiler alert: The Tigers are one game out of first place.

Yes, I know, the AL Central is not exactly formidable.

Who the heck cares?

“Unreal,” Akil Baddoo said. “We’re full of surprises.”

No doubt.

Now, a word here about Baddoo.

He set up this magic by hitting a grand slam against Dylan Cease, who is usually known as a Tiger-killer.

As the ball soared into the stands, Baddoo turned and looked at the Tigers dugout over his shoulder as if to say: Let’s go, boys! Keep it rollin’. Believe, man, just keep believing.

If ever there was a moment to think, “This team is different,”here it was.

Want proof? Just consider who they did this against.

Cease came into the game with a 6-0 record against the Tigers in Detroit. In those six games, he had a 1.97 ERA and 42 strikeouts. The Tigers put so much pressure on him, earning four walks through the first three innings, that he passed 100 pitches in the fourth inning.

“We have to temper our excitement until we see him again,” Hinch said. “But if you give yourself enough chances, you get a big swing like Akil. And that really was a benefit of him tiring towards the end and having him throw that many pitches in that short period of time.”

Reinforcements on the way

It wasn’t just Baddoo’s hit.

It was Zach McKinstry with two more hits, and two more steals, putting al kinds of pressure on the Sox.

It was Spencer Torkelson making another error-saving catch — he does it so often it almost feels routine.

It was Jonathan Schoop crushing a ball on a 10th-inning flyout to advance the winning baserunner.

Yes, this team is different.

And it was another brilliant starting pitching performance, this time by Eduardo Rodriguez, who went six innings, struck out six and gave up just one run.

This came one day after Michael Lorenzen’s amazing performance Saturday, retiring the first 17 batters he faced.

And don’t forget Alex Faedo’s brilliance on Thursday. He pitched six innings, struck out a career-high 10 and didn’t walk anybody.

Here’s the wild part. There are reinforcements on the way.

Kerry Carpenter, out all month with a shoulder injury, is on a rehab assignment in Toledo. Coming back from a shoulder injury, Carpenter gives this team a left-handed bat with power. Potentially, big-time power.

And the rotation could have a major influx within the next month or so.

Right-hander Matt Manning, who is out with a right foot fracture, is back throwing bullpens.

And left-hander Tarik Skubal, who is coming back from flexor tendon surgery, pitched his first live batting practice Friday, and several of his teammates watched.

He is scheduled for another live BP before a rehab assignment.

“I don’t have a lot of fear of what Tarik is going to be coming out of this,” Hinch said. “It’s just a matter of can we stay disciplined enough to the approach. You start to question: ‘Are you sure you need a second live BP? That was pretty good.’

“Of course he does. We’re gonna stay super-disciplined.”

Yes, this team is different. Making plays. Taking walks — at an encouraging rate. But more than anything, doing damage.

And believing. They truly believe.

The Tigers are on the doorstep of being a winning team.

Now, it’s time to kick down that door.

ZACH ATTACK How McKinstry went from ‘the kid in the dirty uniform’ to a productive Tiger

Contact Jeff Seidel at or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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