McCann's first two homers as a Tiger had superhero feel

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The kid wears a "Captain America" fitted shirt underneath his Tigers uniform, and then goes out and does superhero-like things.

Like an inside-the-park home run for his first major-league homer.

And then a walk-off home run for his second major-league homer, in Thursday's 6-5, 11-inning victory over the Astros at Comerica Park.

So, James McCann, what did you have in mind for your next trick?

"Ha," McCann said, rather uncomfortably. "Hopefully just play for a long time in the big leagues."

That's McCann for you — humble, through and through.

There are brash, look-at-me rookies, and then there is McCann, who never thought for a second this spring that he was owed the backup catching job over Bryan Holaday. And when he got it, he never thought for a second that he was owed more than backup catching duties behind Alex Avila.

Avila suffered a knee injury earlier this month, and while he will try rehab over surgery, he could be out until the All-Star break.

Just four years removed from the University of Arkansas, McCann is an everyday catcher in the major leagues — and making the most of the opportunity.

"All good teams have surprises," said Tigers reliever Alex Wilson, who, himself has been one of those surprises. "James McCann hits a walk-off home run to win the game. He's my favorite for rookie of the year this year."

The Tigers have only had three rookie-of-the-year winners, ever, and none who were catchers.

But McCann, hitting .289/.322/434 with a .756 OPS through 25 games, will get enough playing time to possibly find himself in the mix, Others to watch include Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis, the former Tigers second baseman; Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields Jr.; Blue Jays reliever Roberto Osuna; Mariners reliever Carson Smith; and White Sox starter Carlos Rodon.

It's early. Some of those names will drop out, and others will emerge.

But few will be able to say they made history like McCann did. He became the first major-leaguer to hit an inside-the-parker and a walk-off for his first two home runs since Tim Raines did it with the Expos in 1981, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

"He's gonna be a household name," Wilson said of McCann.

McCann, 24, a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, has done more than hit, of course.

In fact, his most important task is on defense. Avila's injury rushed him into a starting job quicker than the Tigers would've liked, meaning he needed to take a crash course on knowing each pitcher's strengths and weaknesses and figuring out a game plan.

Avila's one of the best at calling games, and McCann has been just as astute.

He's also gotten a chance to show off his cannon of an arm — or, his McCannon, as the Tigers have begun branding it — in throwing out seven of 17 attempted base-stealers. He's made great picks at the plate to get runners out, and he even went crashed against the behind-the-plate netting in the series against the Brewers to make a terrific catch.

It was Spider-Man-like for the kid who digs "Captain America" so much, he even wears red, white and blue cufflinks on the road. Really, the superhero attire is about the only brash thing you notice about an otherwise humble McCann.

"He's a really nice guy, a really humble guy, and I like him," Tigers closer Joakim Soria said. "He's very mature over there, he's catching great ballgames, calling great ballgames, and hopefully he can move forward and have a great career."