DETROIT--After four consecutive losses where it didn't matter how much offensive power the Tigers showcased because of the lackluster performances in the starting rotation, Anibal Sanchez restored order Friday night and gave the bullpen a much needed day off.
But amid the excitement of the ongoing hit parade the Tigers have been on for a while now, the player who everyone least expected to get a base hit -- let alone a home run in Comerica Park -- not only made contact with the ball but cleared the fence. Barely.
No one needed a hit more than Andrew Romine, who has been in a disparagingly miserable funk. He had not recorded a hit since May 11 when he was credited with a single because the ball in play hit Austin Jackson (who was running to third base) and prevented a double play.
But Romine snapped an 0-for-22 skid in the sixth inning by hitting his first career home run, sending the first pitch Rangers pitcher Scott Baker threw just over the right field corner. The ball actually hit the foul pole, but for one evening, Romine quieted discussions of his inability to put the bat to the ball.
"I knew that it was hard enough, I just didn't know if it was going to stay fair, because I saw it hook, and obviously I had the best angle, just watching it hook foul," Romine said after the game. "And I'm thinking, ‘God, that ball better stay fair, because I don't know what else I have to do to get a hit right now.'" (h/t Noah Trister, Associated Press)
For a team that has as much fun as the Tigers do, it has been hard for Romine to be so lighthearted because of his struggles at the plate. Romine still has just as much fun as his teammates, but to say that he's been scuffling is an understatement, which made Friday's game that much more important.
Being on a team that hits home runs, doubles and base hits with regularity, pressure to perform can take on a life of its own. Tiger manager Brad Ausmus had said that hitting coach Wally Joyner and he were working on adjustments, but for nearly a month, Romine had next to nothing to show for it.
Romine admitted last week he felt like he hadn't been feeling comfortable at the plate and had never struggled quite like this before. Worse, he couldn't put his finger on why. It had resulted in nothing productive, something not only painfully aware to him but everyone else.
While Romine was brought on for his defensive ability, being able to produce at the plate on some level was also important, and that has not slipped his mind. During his hitless streak, Romine struck out in half of his at bats, 11 times. Friday, Romine made contact multiple times (he reached first base on an error and also flew out to left field), but don't break out the Champagne just yet.
With the home run, Romine's batting average now sits at .176 which, in itself, is dreadful. The shortstop has a long way to go before the Tigers (and fans) can rest easy but sometimes just getting the taste of making contact is what a slumping hitter needs.
"(The Tigers) were swinging the bats so well that even that last kid got a homer," Rangers manager Ron Washington said (h/t Dave Hogg, FOX Sports Detroit).
Torii Hunter said despite playing with Romine both in Detroit and with the Angels, he didn't know it was Romine's first career homer.
Based on the reaction of Romine when he got into the dugout, his expression would have been something more indicative of a grand slam delivery. But for Romine, it might as well have been just that in his mind, Ausmus hopes that it woke something up for Romine.
"He'd been scuffling a little bit, so hopefully it will be a way for him to bust out of it," Ausmus said. "We love his defense, and he's there primarily for his defense, but obviously he and we both would love to have him add offensively.
"The home run was an important add-on run for us tonight, to give us a little bit more breathing room. I'm kind of thinking, in the back of my mind, ‘This is where it turns around for him."
Romine is unlikely to start smashing homers with regularity but it's at least a step in the right direction. And Friday night's performance may have been just what Romine needed to get his bat going.