DETROIT — The Javy Baez experience got off to a dramatic start on Opening Day after the newest Tiger walked off the White Sox with a base hit off the right-field wall, plating Austin Meadows with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday.
The play was initially called an out, but a video review clearly showed the ball bouncing off the wall before right fielder AJ Pollock bobbled, then caught it. The Tigers swarmed the field while home plate umpire Marvin Hudson made the announcement: Call overturned.
“I knew it hit the wall,” a jubilant Baez said after the 5-4 win. “I thought it hit the glove and then the wall and then he caught it. But it was backwards. It hit the wall then his glove then he caught it.”
Pollock was playing his first career game at Comerica Park after being acquired by the White Sox in a trade last week.
“I got really tight on the wall there,” Pollock said. “I felt it hit my glove but I didn’t know if it hit glove or hit the wall. Ball kind of popped up there and I caught it. I had no idea what to think of it. Was just kind of a funky play.”
The walk-off win capped a wild ending which saw White Sox closer Liam Hendriks blow leads in the eighth and ninth innings. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera tied the score in the eighth with his 2,988th career hit, a two-run single off Hendriks.
After Andrew Vaughn gave the White Sox the lead again with a home run in the ninth, a two-out triple by Meadows set the stage for Baez in the bottom of the inning. Manager AJ Hinch had a moment with Baez before the game winner.
“You can beat him with a single in that situation,” Hinch said. “It’s just trying to calm down the moment so you’re in control of the moment.”
It was good advice for Baez, who is known as a free swinger. He struck out in his first two at-bats — taking massive swings — but made a spectacular defensive play in between those plate appearances. Then he singled in the eighth before Cabrera tied it.
“When Javy hits it, electric things happen,” Hinch said. “Welcome to Detroit, Javy Baez.”
Detroit loaded up in the offseason, signing the former Cub to a six-year, $140 million deal while inking Friday’s starter, Eduardo Rodriguez, to a five-year pact. They also traded for Meadows on Monday after bringing in catcher Tucker Barnhart before the lockout.
Many believe the Tigers will make it interesting in the AL Central where the White Sox are the class of the division. Detroit went 69-63 in its final 132 games last season.
“They [the White Sox] have a great team but it’s not going to be easy for them or anyone,” Baez said. “We’re going to go out there and compete and compete and compete.”
Worse than the loss, the White Sox may have lost starter Lucas Giolito for an undetermined amount of time. He left Friday’s game after four innings due to an abdominal issue and is being evaluated.
“I’m concerned because he felt something, and he was smart, didn’t feel well didn’t go back out because who knows what’s going to happen,” manager Tony La Russa said. “We got a lot riding on him getting checked and seeing what it is.”
The Sox already lost reliever Garrett Crochet for the season while starter Lance Lynn is out for 6 to 8 weeks with a knee injury. And now they have an up-and-coming Tigers team to deal with led by a dynamic must-watch player.
“They added a couple pieces that make their lineup significantly harder to pitch to,” Hendriks said.