Kansas City Royals rookie slugger Vinnie Pasquantino hit 24 homeruns last season in the minors between High-A and Double-A, and he had already amassed 18 in 69 games with Triple-A this season before being called up to the majors.
Of course there was none like him whom he beat in a 3-1 win over the on Friday night Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound left-handed batting Pasquantino became the first Royals player since Ryan O’Hearn (July 31, 2018) to hit a home run for his first major league hit. Pasquantino’s first home run, a solo shot, came against Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Pineda.
The previous explosions didn’t come on the same kind of stage, with the same kind of emotion, anticipation and excitement. Nor was one of those things that he was tagged by Javier Baez as he slides to second base.
“I wish he could have kept his pants clean,” said Royals manager Mike Matheny with a grin. “You don’t always want a man to slide on his first homer. I don’t know how that was missed. It’s a shame because it took a bit of distance from it because of all the confusion. But that ball had blisters.”
The home run, the hardest hit homer of the season by a Royals batter (112.7 mph exit speed), was a line drive that hit the right field railing over the wall.
As the ball hit the railing and bounced back into play, it wasn’t immediately clear whether he had hit a homerun, and the outfielder played the ball off the wall and threw it to second base.
Pasquantino ran out of the penalty area with his head bowed and followed the instruction of first base coach Damon Hollins to run fast. With the throw to second base, he slipped to try to dodge a tag. The umpire on second base initially indicated that he was tagged out.
Pasquantino, who made his major league debut on Wednesday, said part of the problem was that he’d watched enough videos to know that Baez is an “incredible tagger.” So Pasquantino was afraid of being fooled and putting outs on bases.
“He was in the middle of the baseline and I think I just can’t get out of this,” Pasquantino said. “I have to run fast to second base to get there, because halfway through second base I realized I was going to be kicked out. I just didn’t want him to blanket me, only to find out he told me to slow down so I could jog around the bases for my first homer.
As for the slide that took something away from his first home run in the majors, Pasquantino actually had a different reaction.
In his mind it was appropriate.
“I think I’m a little happier that there was a drama involved,” Pasquantino said. “If anyone follows me, my first home run in spring practice was off the midfield wall in Tempe against (the Angels) and I jogged to second and sprinted home thinking it wasn’t a homer. So I tried to make it an inside-the-park homer.
“Tonight it was the exact opposite. I mean, I got tagged out by Javy Baez at second base on my first home run. That’s pretty cool. So he gets a jersey and I hope he signs it for me. That’s cool.” a cool moment to have. What helped more was it gave us a run, which helps a lot.”
Clean up obligation for the rookie
The momentous moment coincided with the first time the Royals pushed Pasquantino behind fellow rookie in the clearing spot in the batting order. Bobby Witt Jr. Pasquantino became the first Royals player to do a bat clearing within his first three MLB starts since Joe Vitiello in 1995, according to Sports Radar.
Before the game, Matheny talked about the approach he hoped Pasquantino, a disciplined batter in the minors, would have on the cleanup spot.
“He has to do what he does,” Matheny said. “Ideally you don’t do anything else no matter where you are in the lineup. Whether it is first or fourth place, you are in those places because of the way you do business. We want Vinnie to attack and be aggressive on fields where he can deal damage.”
Well, two at bats into the night, Pasquantino had ticked that box.
“I’m just happy to be in the lineup,” said Pasquantino, going 1 for 4. “When your name is in the lineup, it’s always something special. I joked with Bobby today that I’m his protection. I was today, I was trying to make Bobby’s life a little easier. And I did tonight not well done.
“So it’s just one of those things. The line-up position doesn’t really matter. I’m glad to be in the lineup. I’m glad I contributed to the win tonight. Who knows where I’ll end up tomorrow. I’ll find out at some point. Wherever I play, I just want to help this team win ball games. I’m happy to say tonight that I helped the team win.”