Detroit Tigers rookie picks up where his uncle left off with surprise homer in victory
Detroit Tigers right-hander Kyle Funkhouser wouldn't say what his teammates did to him, third baseman Sergio Alcantara and righty Bryan Garcia.
All three achieved career firsts Sunday — Funkhouser got his first win; Alcantara launched his first homer; Garcia notched his first save.
"They took care of us," Funkhouser said, smiling.
Alcantara wasn't so reserved. He opened up about the celebration, which had to do with an assortment of items in the clubhouse.
"They put me in a cart where they put the laundry," Alcantara said. "They drove me to the showers, and they threw whatever they found in the clubhouse, from shampoo, taco meat, even mayo. It's a very nice experience down here."
That must be what happens when a player homers for his first MLB hit on the first at-bat of his career. It was doubly surprising for Alcantara, actually — he only had nine homers in 2,611 minor-league at-bats.
Alcantara's homer was an early spark for the struggling Tigers (18-20), but the big blast didn't occur until the late innings, when they recorded three runs in the sixth, two in the seventh and three more in the eighth to secure a 10-8 comeback victory Sunday against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak.
Bench coach Lloyd McClendon, acting as manager with Ron Gardenhire out of action due to a stomach bug, couldn't describe his emotions when Alcantara sent Twins starter Rich Hill's second pitch of the at-bat 388 feet over the wall in left-center field, giving his team a 2-0 lead.
"I fainted," McClendon said, laughing. "When I woke up, I think he was in the dugout. I don't think anybody in that dugout expected the home run on his first at-bat. But good for that young man. He's worked hard to get here. He's a big-leaguer. He proved it."
The dugout erupted in cheers — a boost the Tigers had been yearning for. Alcantara became the franchise's first position player to homer in his first career at-bat since Reggie Sanders on Sept. 1, 1974.
"I bet he blacked out around the bases and doesn't remember a whole lot," said catcher Grayson Greiner, who had a solo homer in the eighth inning. "He's always got a smile on his face. He's kind of quiet, keeps to himself, but I know he was really excited. We were all excited for him."
But no one might've been more excited than Alcantra's family, watching the game from the Dominican Republic. His uncle, former Tigers minor leaguer Anderson Hernandez, announced his retirement from professional baseball Saturday by signing a one-day contract with the Tigres del Licey, a team in the Dominican Winter League.
By doing so, Hernandez officially passed the torch to his nephew.
"He gave everything he could to this game," Alcantara said. "He had to retire, but he asked me to follow the path, and he was happy for everything I have been doing to make it to be here in the majors."
Hernandez signed with Detroit in 2001 as an 18-year-old. He made his MLB debut for the Mets in 2005 and played in the majors through 2010, hitting .241 with four homers and 60 RBIs in 240 games.
"All the struggles I've been battling, all the fight that I had to be here, he's super happy for me," said Alcantara, who began his pro career in 2013 in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.
Alcantara finished his MLB debut with back-to-back strikeouts — in the fifth as Hill painted the outside corner with a curveball, and again in the sixth as Tyler Duffey fed him another curveball, a bit further out of the zone.
In the field, he handled the ball just once at third base, where he has only three starts in his pro career.
"(His arm) is really strong," shortstop Willi Castro said. "I haven't seen an arm like that. Everybody was saying that back then, that he had a really good arm. When I first saw him, that was a really amazing arm."
But on Sunday, the 5-foot-9, 151-pound rookie, who hadn't played above Double-A Erie, used his bat to give the Tigers a boost in their race for the expanded 16-team playoffs.
Detroit finished Sunday two games back of the New York Yankees for the AL's eighth and final spot with 22 games remaining. And Alcantara's third-inning home run could be remembered as yet another a turning point in this shortened season.
"We've been playing really good baseball," McClendon said. "We were 6-4 in our last 10; we could have been 10-0. It was tough, but to get that off that losing streak, to open the paper the next day and not see five in a row, that's important for the psyche."
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.