Christin Stewart makes first big splash as Tigers club Royals

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Christin Stewart of the Tigers celebrates with JaCoby Jones after hitting a two-run home run during the first inning.

Detroit — It was only 40 plate appearances, so it wasn’t like it was starting to weigh on Detroit Tigers rookie Christin Stewart. But this is a guy who hit 94 home runs in four minor-league seasons and some of his teammates were starting to wonder, jokingly, if all that power was a myth.

“Yeah, I wasn’t thinking about it, but it was getting brought up in the clubhouse,” Stewart said Thursday. “I am just glad I got that first one out of the way.”

First two, actually.

Stewart homered in his first two at-bats and drove in six runs, helping the Tigers to an 11-8 win over the Kansas City Royals, ending a three-game losing streak.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 11, Royals 8

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“He comes every day and does his work and prepares to go play baseball,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It was just a matter of time with his swing. He’s trying to find his way around here, but he’s a strong, young kid.

“There is a reason everyone calls him one of the top prospects and a big part of our future — he showed you a little bit of that tonight.”

The ball was flying out of Comerica Park Thursday night. Batting practice was a show — and Stewart was a headliner, mashing balls deep into the right field and right-center field seats.

“I felt good in batting practice,” he said. “But some days you feel bad in BP and have a great game, or you can be great in BP and have a bad game. It can go either way. But I felt good. I had a good feeling.”

It was a wild night. The Tigers and Royals brought a combined 191 losses coming into the game, but they came at each other like caged MMA fighters in a death match.

They pounded out 14 runs, 17 hits, 11 extra-base hits and five home runs — in the first two innings. Yes, on maybe the last warm night of the season in Detroit, the ball was flying out of Comerica Park.

“If you watched BP, we were killing balls, they were flying all over the place,” Gardenhire said. “You kind of knew what was going to happen. It was going to be one of those nights.”

Stewart hit a two-run shot in the first inning (he and Nick Castellanos went back-to-back) and a majestic 403-foot, three-run bomb to right-center field in the second inning. He hadn’t produced five RBIs in a game since he was playing Low-A ball at West Michigan, and he wasn’t done.

“Really?” he said. “I don’t know what to say. I am just glad I was able to help the team win.”

Both home runs came on off-speed offerings from Royals rookie starter Jorge Lopez.  

The last Tigers hitter to hit his first two big-league homers in the same game was Brent Clevlen, who did it in August 2006.

"After the first couple of games, the nerves just died away," Stewart said. "I just started to play baseball. Honestly, after I got the first hit, everything calmed down and I just started to have fun and play loose."

In the seventh inning, Stewart batted with the bases loaded and two outs against Royals reliever Brandon Maurer. He just missed clearing the bases, lining a 3-2 pitch just foul down the right-field line.

He ended up walking in a run, his sixth RBI. He is the first Tigers rookie to post six RBIs in a game since Ryan Raburn did it in 2007. He is the first rookie since 1908 to have a six-RBI game in the first 11 games of a career.

“That was fun,” Gardenhire said. “He had a big smile on his face, I know that, and he hit big home runs for us. This kid has had a heckuva year. It hasn’t gone great for him offensively, but this just shows you what he can do.

“He can get the barrel on the ball and put it in the seats.”

Castellanos, whose first inning homer was his 22nd, followed Stewart’s second blast with a triple and scored on a double by Victor Martinez, who also doubled in the first inning.

Grayson Greiner knocked in a pair of runs in the first two innings with a sacrifice fly and single.

Shortstop Pete Kozma also had two hits and an RBI.

“We had a good night,” Gardenhire said. “Lot of guys swinging the bat and running around after a real bad series against the Twins. They kicked our butts. This was a nice night to come back and have a little fun ourselves.”

Tigers starter Matthew Boyd endured his shortest outing since September 2016. He gave up a three-run home run to Jorge Bonifacio in the first, after an error by third baseman Ronny Rodriguez prolonged the inning.

In the second, Brian Goodwin tagged him with a two-run shot.

“The first inning I felt good,” he said. “But in the second, I just didn’t have it. I would’ve loved a chance to battle through it, but Gardy made the right decision. Our bullpen did a great job. It’s awesome when the team picks you up and kind of redeems the game for you.”

Only two of the five runs off Boyd were earned, but he allowed more hits (six) than recorded outs (four).

An indication of how the ball was flying: The Twins' Hunter Dozier hit a fastball from reliever Zac Reininger 439 feet into the center field shrubbery — a two-run blast in the fourth inning that made it a 9-7 game.

The Tigers bullpen hushed the Royals bats through the eighth inning. Buck Farmer (1 1/3 innings), Victor Alcantara (one), Alex Wilson (one) and Joe Jimenez (one) all pitched scoreless innings. Jimenez, who stuck out the side in the eighth, has now posted 18 straight outs over his last six outings, with 11 strikeouts.

Shane Greene gave up the seventh home run of the game — a solo shot by Adalberto Mondesi, leading off the ninth – before closing it out.

Twitter @cmccosky