Detroit — Tigers rookie Christin Stewart has certainly ridden some emotional rapids in the first week of this young season.
He hit a game-winning, two-run home run on Opening Day in Toronto, then went 18 at-bats without a hit.
"Sometimes there's beauty in the struggle," he said. "Because once you come out of it, it's a pretty nice feeling."
Stewart broke out of it with a double in his first at-bat Thursday. He walked and doubled here Saturday, then, with the Tigers down by a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, he blasted the first grand slam home run of his young career, sending the Tigers to their fourth straight win — 7-4 over the Royals.
"You just keep swinging the bat and good things will happen," he said. "I just tried not to get too high or too low, just stay even keel through it all. Getting that first hit out of the way, it didn't matter how it came, you are just happy to get on base — it calms you down because you aren't fighting for that hit."
The Tigers came up in the bottom of the seventh in a 4-2 hole. They had lost starting pitcher Matt Moore to a right knee sprain in the third inning, and the Royals had powered ahead on the strength of two long seventh-inning home runs — by Jorge Soler (401 feet) and Hunter Dozier (434 feet).
Still, as Stewart said afterward, the Tigers never felt like they were going to lose the game.
"We gave it up and they came back in hooting and hollering," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "'Let's have good at-bats,' and that's what they did. None better than Stew's."
Nick Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera, who each had three hits on the day, were in the thick of the five-run rally. Castellanos, who has reached base in every game this season, singled in the first run and there were still runners at first and second with nobody out.
But the Tigers nearly ran themselves out of the inning. Cabrera drilled a single to left field. With six-time Gold Glover Alex Gordon fielding the ball in short left, third base coach Dave Clark waved Josh Harrison around third. Gordon made a strong throw to the plate and nailed the sliding Harrison.
"That's part of it," Gardenhire said. "You are trying to be aggressive and you are going to get thrown out every once in a while. You just have to stay after it. You can't let your dobbers go down.
"We're trying to be as aggressive as we can possibly be and we're going to get people thrown out. If we run the bases aggressively, that's going to happen. But in the end, teams are going to make a lot of mistakes when we are aggressive."
With two outs, Royals reliever Wily Peralta walked Jeimer Candelario to load the bases.
Stewart was next and he fell behind 1-2. Peralta missed with one change-up and then came back with another. Stewart didn't miss it. The only question was whether it would stay fair. It appeared to scrape the foul pole in right field.
"It was an off-speed pitch and was just trying to take a short path to the ball and hit it hard," he said. "I wasn't trying to take a weak swing. Everything just worked together on that swing."
Stewart said he knew it was fair before the umpire signaled home run.
"I saw it," he said. "That's a great feeling."
The last Tigers rookie to hit a grand slam was Brennan Boesch in 2010.
"You put the previous at-bats behind you, that's what big-leaguers do," Harrison said, when asked about Stewart's perseverance early this year. "Regardless of what's going on, each at-bat is different. You can't let something that happened previous affect what happens later in the game."
Stewart has spent a lot of time in recent days talking to Castellanos. If anybody knows how to deal with the maniacal ups and downs of a baseball season, it's Castellanos.
"We've talked a good bit about his approach and how he goes about each day," Stewart said. "I started to refine my approach about how I go about each day, what I do before and after each game.
"The routine in the big leagues is a lot different than ones in the minor leagues. I'm just trying to refine my routine and trust the process."
Gardenhire, to his credit, has not flinched regarding Stewart.
"I love the kid," he said. "I said he can hit. I said he's going to be a power hitter. He's got a strong base and he can drive a baseball. He's going to have his ups and downs. He's going to chase and have some bad at-bats.
"But this is a growing experience for him. He learned a little bit last year and he feels comfortable right now. Just let him play. He's got everything right in front of him right now. He just has to keep focused and I don't think these guys will let him not focus. They are on him pretty good."
Joe Jimenez pitched a scoreless eighth inning, and Shane Greene put the Royals down in order in the ninth for his sixth save, and suddenly it feels like something is gaining real momentum.
"We've had a lot of good team wins," Harrison said. "The pitchers have done what they've had to do to keep us in these games and we've come up with some timely hits. That's the name of the game.
"Pitch, play defense and get timely hits. It's been a good little ride these first however many games."