KANSAS CITY — Miguel Cabrera gave up first base for moments like this.
Cabrera’s 2,995th career hit and 599th double put him on base with the Tigers’ tying run, but it was Spencer Torkelson’s second career home run that brought him home and put Detroit in front. And as Cabrera crossed home plate, he waited for Torkelson to cross with the go-ahead run so he could give him a high-five and put an arm around him.
“That was awesome,” Torkelson said after the Tigers’ 2-1 win over the Royals Friday night at Kauffman Stadium. “That was really cool, a really special moment. That inning doesn’t happen without his double.”
One month after Cabrera said he was happy being a designated hitter if it meant having Torkelson in the big leagues, because they’d have a better chance to win with him, Torkelson drove him in with the first go-ahead homer of his Major League career. And after playing so many close games against the Royals last season, the Tigers have back-to-back road victories over a division rival that tormented them last year — one win by two runs, another by one.
“Huge win for us based on the limited offense,” manager A.J. Hinch said, “and some pretty gutsy pitching tonight, too.”
For six innings, the Tigers had no answer for Royals starter Brad Keller, who has had up-and-down starts against Detroit over his career but tossed 12 scoreless innings to begin this season. Torkelson’s fifth-inning single, a line drive to left-center, was Detroit’s lone hit against him as he took the mound for the seventh with a 1-0 lead. Detroit had put just three other balls into the outfield against him.
But Torkelson showed why he’s dangerous for starting pitchers to face a third time. He’d grounded out solidly to third base his first time up off a Keller sinker on the inner half of the plate, having fouled the same pitch off to begin the at-bat. Keller came back against him with back-to-back sliders in the fifth inning, but left the second one up enough that Torkelson could center it.
“He got me out in my first at-bat with that,” Torkelson said of the sinker, “so I kind of had that in the back of my head.”
So did Keller, working out of the stretch against Torkelson for the first time and pitching with a runner in scoring position for just the second time all game. Keller gave Torkelson the sinker he wanted, but threw it further in. All Torkelson could do with it was foul it off.
“Didn’t take a great swing on the first pitch, got in on me,” Torkelson said, “so I kind of figured he would go back to it.”
He did, but not as far inside. Torkelson crushed it.
The second Major League “Tork Bomb” had an exit velocity of 111.5 miles per hour and would’ve been out in all 30 Major League parks, according to Statcast.
“Way over our heads,” said Friday’s closer, Michael Fulmer, craning his head towards the clubhouse ceiling to demonstrate his view of the homer as it soared over the visiting bullpen in left field and into the seats beyond.
The ball traveled a Statcast-projected 432 feet. Torkelson didn’t see much of it. He was turned to the Tigers dugout as the ball soared, shouting at his teammates and pumping his fist as he took a step backwards to begin his jog around the bases.
“I think I said, ‘Come on, baby,’” Torkelson chuckled. “I was pretty fired up.”
“It’s a big hit, a big, emotional hit,” Hinch said. “We’re in the latter third of the game. Those guys have a shutdown bullpen. It’s hard to come by, especially in this park. We play so many close games against these guys. A big swing like that put a jolt in the dugout.
“I love it when players show emotion — especially Tork, who’s been carrying a lot of stress over the last 10 days trying to get himself up and running. Great way to stamp his arrival.”
Torkelson insisted he hasn’t stressed. He has said he trusted in his approach, and he maintains it. He was more aggressive Friday, in no small part because pitchers have attacked him in the strike zone more. He saw seven pitches in three at-bats against Keller after working three-ball counts in his last three plate appearances of Thursday’s series opener.
“He’s such a pro, such a good dude, too,” said Tarik Skubal, who gladly took a no-decision rather than a tough-luck loss after throwing 5 2/3 innings with one unearned run and seven strikeouts. “Good teammate, very confident in himself. He obviously belongs, and everybody in this clubhouse feels like he belongs, too.”