Davis smacks walk-off grand slam for Tigers

Rajai Davis celebrates after he hits a walk off grand slam in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics.

Rick Osentoski

DETROIT — Monday evening, Alan Trammell was at the podium, speaking to a sold-out Comerica Park crowd about the greatness of the 1984 Tigers.

In left field, Rajai Davis stopped warming up to watch Trammell’s speech on the scoreboard.

Three hours later, Davis joined Trammell in the record books, becoming just the second Tigers player since World War II to hit the biggest-possible homer — a game-ending grand slam while trailing by three runs in the bottom of the ninth. 

Trammell did it on June 21, 1988 against Cecilio Guante of the Yankees to give the Tigers a 7-6 victory, and then on the day the franchise honored Trammell and the last Tigers World Series champs, Davis hit a hanging curveball down the left-field line for a 5-4 win over Oakland.

"That was amazing," Davis said. "I hit it, but I wasn’t sure. I just hoped the wind would blow it out."

Davis hitting the "Super Slam" after listening to Trammell’s pregame speech is a coincidence on its own, but it’s actually weirder than that. Much weirder.

The last Tigers walk-off grand slam of any kind came almost 10 years ago to the day — June 27, 2004 — when Carlos Pena hit one to break a 5-5 tie against Arizona. That happened to be the same weekend that the Tigers, managed by Trammell, celebrated the 1984 team’s 20th anniversary.

Thirty years, and Davis listening to Trammell. Twenty years, and Pena being managed by Trammell. You can probably see where this is going.

June 21, 1994. No, there was no 10-year celebration of the championship team, because three of its biggest stars were still in the lineup. There was Kirk Gibson in centerfield, there was Trammell at shortstop, and, of course, there was Lou Whitaker at second.

No, it wasn’t Trammell who hit the walk-off slam against Cleveland that day. He just scored on Whitaker’s.

An obvious suggestion: When the 40th anniversary celebration comes around in 2024, if Alan Trammell is anywhere near Comerica Park, don’t leave early.

Oh, and this wasn’t Detroit’s first walk-off grand slam against Oakland, either. In 1983, Lance Parrish hit one at Tiger Stadium. Parrish wasn’t there for Monday’s celebration, because he’s managing Detroit’s Double-A team in Erie, but the pitcher was — it was Jeff Jones, who is now Detroit’s pitching coach. 

(Trammell, of course, was in that game as well.)

Brad Ausmus didn’t care if Trammell is a lucky charm or not — he was just trying to recover from the crazy finish to the game.

"That’s a fun way to win — you see the pig pile at home plate, and then there’s some celebration in the clubhouse afterward," he said. "But you wouldn’t want to do it every night. You’d have a coronary."

Even the way that Detroit’s ninth unfolded was hard to believe. The Tigers were facing one of the best closers in baseball, Oakland’s Sean Doolittle, and trailing 4-1. Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila led off the innings with singles, putting runners on the corners, but Doolittle seemed to get things back under control by striking out Eugenio Suarez.

That’s when things got strange.

With Victor Martinez unavailable to pinch hit because of soreness in his side, Detroit had to send Austin Jackson to the plate. That seemed like a terrible matchup for the Tigers, as Jackson strikes out nearly as often as anyone in baseball, while Doolittle had struck out 57 batters this season while walking one.

Make that two. Jackson fouled off three straight 2-2 pitches, then took two fastballs inside and trotted to first, loading the bases. 

I’m hoping to have some bigger moments, but right now, this one is at the top.

Rajai Davis

"That was a hell of a battle," Doolittle said. "You could really see him shorten up his swing with two strikes, and he did a real good job."

It might have helped that Jackson had no idea about Doolittle’s control.

"Really? No, I didn’t know that at all," he said when he was told that he was just the second batter to get a walk off him. "I was just trying to have a good at-bat."

After throwing nine straight fastballs to Jackson, Doolittle tried something else with Davis. He missed with a curveball, then came back with another one. This one hung, and Davis drilled it down the left-field line for the first walk-off homer of his career.

"I can’t even remember the last one of those I’ve hit," Davis said, still seemingly stunned by the event. "It must have been in my dreams, while I was sleeping."

Doolittle didn’t give any excuses.

"I just hung the crap out of it," he said. "I threw some good pitches, but I threw some bad ones, and the last one cost us the game."

It also provided a night that Davis will never forget.

"This is definitely the biggest moment of my career," he said. "I’m hoping to have some bigger moments, but right now, this one is at the top."