The Tigers' Torii Hunter congratulates Eugenio Suarez, right, after Suarez hit a solo home run to tie the score 1-1 in the third inning Saturday at Comerica Park. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — There was a time, not that long ago, when a Tiger actually hit for the cycle, and barely anyone in Comerica Park even knew it.
That was back in the Dark Days of Tigers baseball, June 8, 2001, to be exact. Damion Easley tripled in the eighth inning against Brewers reliever Will Cunnane, the baseball was rolled into the home dugout to preserve as a keepsake, and the Comerica Park crowd of 27,770 offered a smattering of applause.
It sure didn’t feel like Easley became the ninth Tiger to hit for the cycle.
On Saturday night at Comerica Park, everyone — the sellout crowd, the players, everyone — knew exactly what was at stake when rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez, his major-league career all of eight games old, strolled to the plate. The massive scoreboard made it clear to the few who might not have been paying full attention, noting Suarez already had a double, triple and a home run.
All that was missing was a simple single. And he got his chance. Suarez swung at all four pitches he saw, fouling the first three off, then grounded into a fielder’s choice to dash his hopes. But he certainly gave the fans a performance to remember in a 12-9 victory over the Twins.
“The way he’s been able to handle himself on the infield and at the plate,” Victor Martinez said, raving about Suarez, his young Venezuelan countryman. “I remember when I got called up. It took me a while to get into a rhythm. Just seeing what he’s doing right now, he’s pretty impressive.”
The fact Suarez’s effort came in a much-needed win made it even more special.
Suarez had the three hits and a walk as the Tigers offense — which had scored 11 runs on the week entering the game — finally went off, setting season-bests in runs and hits (19).
Ian Kinsler, who had two hits in his previous seven games, had three of those hits, as did Martinez, who, it should be noted, also finished a hit from the cycle — though the hit he lacked was the triple, and he hasn’t had one of those since 2010.
It all backed another fine effort from Anibal Sanchez, who left in the seventh inning, his team leading 11-2. The final line for Sanchez (3-2) showed he allowed three runs on four hits, while striking out six.
The bullpen, as it tends to do, managed to make things interesting.
“Somebody mentioned it to me, mentioned that he had needed a single for the cycle, that we needed to get him one more at-bat,” manager Brad Ausmus said of Suarez’s bid for history. “They were aware of it. I think the turn of the game kind of took the focus away from that.”
But afterward, everyone was more than willing to be in awe of what Suarez has been able to accomplish, so fast, in the major leagues. Through eight games, he’s batting .400, and on Saturday, he became just the fourth Tiger to record a third home run in his first seven starts, joining teammate Alex Avila (2009), Robert Fick (1999) and Frank Doljack (1930).
His home run Saturday came leading off the third inning. The Tigers trailing 1-0, he teed off on a pitch from Sam Deduno (2-5) and hit an absolute bomb to left-center, over the visitor’s bullpen and 10 rows deep into the stands. There aren’t many no-doubters to left-center at Comerica Park, but that was one.
Later that same inning, Suarez hit a bloop double to center field, driving in the seventh run of the inning — and inning that was aided by some good fortune and some nice bounces, including a high-chop double by Torii Hunter over the third baseman’s head that evoked memories of Hunter’s days playing at the hard-ground Metrodome.
“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” said Hunter, who hit a more conventional double earlier in the game and finished with two RBIs. “A lot of bloop hits today. It was our turn.”
Not much, of course, has gone the Tigers’ way the last few weeks, as they’ve blown most of their lead in the AL Central. The Royals, visiting for four games next week, sit just 1.5 games back.
But at least Saturday gave them something to smile about.
Suarez, especially. He added the triple leading off the seventh inning, giving him hope he might get a shot at the cycle. The Tigers would need to get at least one runner on in the eighth, though that wasn’t expected to be a problem — given they hadn’t gone 1-2-3 all day. Turns out, the first two batters reached in the eighth, setting Suarez up with his chance.
The Kid, all of 22, definitely knew was at stake. His teammates told him. And he wasn’t going to walk.
“No chance,” Hunter said. “If he’d have walked, I’d have been pissed.”
Four swings later, Suarez had grounded into the fielder’s choice — and waiting for him at first base was coach Omar Vizquel, who gave him a hearty pat on the back.
The message: “What’s done is done.”
And what was done was darn neat — especially consider Comerica Park doesn’t even sell Suarez jerseys yet. Don’t worry. They’re on it now.
“I was very happy today because I didn’t know that I could do something like that,” Suarez said through a translator. “I feel great and thank God. I’m happy that I almost did it.”
He did it, in fact, with former Tiger great — and famous Venezuelan — Magglio Ordonez in attendance. Just so happens, Suarez’s wears the number Ordonez did in Detroit, No. 30.
That’s coincidence, though. Suarez was handed No. 30 when he arrived in the big leagues last week.
“It was very special,” Suarez said. “I didn’t know he was here until after my home run.”
The Tigers hit a pair of home runs — Victor Martinez with the other, also in that third inning. It originally was ruled a double, but quickly was overturned after Ausmus challenged. That bumped Martinez up to 17 home runs, to match his 17 strikeouts.
Nick Castellanos also had his third three-hit game this month.
In fact, every Tiger reached base at least once, eight reached at least twice, and seven had at least one RBI — welcome production for a team that had been averaging just over three runs a game since May 22.
“Let me tell you something, we don’t care what happened last night,” Martinez said. “Something we do a really good job of here, yesterday’s over and we turn the page. We came ready to play baseball today and, guess what? Today’s over, we’ll turn the page and come back tomorrow ready to play.”