Detroit Tigers’ Parker Meadows continues epic start to MLB career: ‘It doesn’t feel real’

Detroit Free Press

Diving catch? Check.

First hit? Check.

Elite speed? Check.

On Friday, Detroit Tigers center fielder Parker Meadows added “first home run” to his list of accomplishments through four games in his MLB career. His first-career homer, in walk-off fashion, lifted the Tigers to a 4-1 win over the Houston Astros, the reigning World Series champions, in front of nearly 24,000 fans at Comerica Park.

“I know we’re going to talk about the homer,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “That’s what we should talk about tonight, but the way he got to that count, I thought, was a very mature at-bat.”

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First baseman Spencer Torkelson and right fielder Riley Greene poured Gatorade buckets filled with water onto Meadows — and reporter Trevor Thompson — during the Bally Sports Detroit postgame interview near the Tigers’ dugout. Catcher Jake Rogers added to the mix by shoving a towel covered in shaving cream in Meadows’ face.

Meadows became the first Tiger to hit a walk-off home run for the first homer of their MLB career since Greene on July 2, 2022, against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. The 23-year-old also became the only MLB player to collect his first-career RBI on a walk-off three-run homer (or grand slam) since the stat became official in 1920.

It was the biggest moment of Meadows’ career, so far.

“I was sitting on a fastball, but he left the (curveball) up and I took advantage of it,” Meadows said. “In that position, people tend to get overly aggressive and press a little bit, but I just kept reminding myself to be easy.”

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Although it ended up being a very fun night at Comerica Park, things got off to a slow start. The Tigers were held hitless through seven innings by left-hander Framber Valdez, who threw 114 pitches. Kerry Carpenter, a left-handed hitter, stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter with one out in the eighth inning and hit a single off right-handed reliever Bryan Abreu.

Still, the Tigers couldn’t score.

“The lineup that we went with was setting up the possibility for something to happen,” said Hinch, who didn’t start the red-hot Carpenter. “We wanted to get Framber out of the game and get to their all-right-handed bullpen and unleash the left-handed bats. That’s why we sat those guys. It didn’t work out exactly like we wanted because we couldn’t get the righty (reliever) in with guys on base, but when they flipped to the bullpen, we went aggressive with those pinch-hits.”

The ninth inning began with back-to-back strikeouts from Astros right-handed reliever Ryan Pressly. The Tigers were one out away from losing the game when Miguel Cabrera, playing the final games of his 21-year career, ripped a two-strike slider into center field for a single to keep the inning alive.

Pinch-hitter Zach McKinstry, one of the left-handed hitters Hinch had saved, added a single to put runners on first and second base. Carson Kelly, the backup catcher, entered as a pinch-runner to replace Cabrera at second base.

“We lost the (designated hitter),” Hinch said. “Every starting pitcher in there was getting their jersey just in case they were going to be the lucky one to get an at-bat in extra innings. And Parker made sure that we didn’t have that dilemma.”

Before Meadows, Javier Báez tied the game, 1-1, with a broken-bat single off Pressly’s third-pitch slider. Kelly, who took over for Cabrera on the bases, scored from second base easily.

Báez reflected on Meadows’ heroics.

“Pretty special, first of all, to hit a walk-off, and second of all, for your first home run to be a walk-off in a game like this,” Báez said. “It’s really good for the team and for the win to open the series.”

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The single from Báez, rather than an all-too-common strikeout, put the game in the hands of the calm newcomer. The Tigers had two runners in scoring position, so at the very least, Meadows needed to reach base safely.

He left no doubt about the outcome.

Meadows took a first-pitch changeup for a called strike, then chose not to swing at a changeup in the dirt and a slider up-and-away to get ahead 2-1 in the count. Entering Friday, opponents had a .142 batting average against Pressly in two-strike counts, but Meadows didn’t let that happen.

“Parker did a great job before the homer of getting himself into a good count,” Hinch said. “If he goes up there a little too aggressive and starts flailing at balls, then the count flips on him and he’s in deep trouble when Pressly gets to leverage. It’s the quality of the at-bat.”

A fourth-pitch curveball, hanging on the middle-inside part of the strike zone, was pulled into the right-field seats. Meadows, who received 517 plate appearances in Triple-A Toledo before Monday’s MLB debut, blasted the breaking ball for a walk-off home run.

The fan who caught the ball, a kid named Cole, traded it to Meadows for a signed bat.

“This team never gave up,” Meadows said. “The energy here was unbelievable. It’s fun playing in front of this crowd. … I got the family here. I got a couple of my best friends here.”

In the fourth inning, by the way, Meadows robbed Yordan Alvarez of a solo home run — another marquee moment on the long list of accomplishments to start his career — with a leaping catch in center field.

After four games, the 23-year-old looks like a mature runner on the bases, a mature defender in center field, and a mature hitter at the plate. He looks like the complete player that the Tigers, led by president of baseball operations Scott Harris, expected after giving him 113 games with the Mud Hens to prepare for his MLB arrival.

“I can’t put it into words,” Meadows said. “It doesn’t feel real.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him @EvanPetzold.

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