Detroit Tigers' AJ Hinch: Walk-off hero Robbie Grossman 'deserves moments like this'

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The Detroit Tigers needed a leader.

To fill the role, they called Robbie Grossman in the offseason.

"It's very personal for me," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Friday night, after Grossman crushed a two-run walk-off homer to beat the New York Yankees, 3-2, in the 10th inning at Comerica Park. "I saw him as a young player. I've seen him mature and grow. I'm very proud of him for being able to get to free agency, have a choice of where to play, choose us and reunite with him."

The Tigers, now 20-31, trailed 2-1 to the Yankees in extra innings, with Eric Haase standing on third base. There were two outs, and the count was full. Grossman punished a fastball from Justin Wilson to left field, dropped his bat and took in the moment before he jogged around the bases.

This was Grossman's first walk-off homer in his nine-year MLB career.

Detroit Tigers left fielder Robbie Grossman (8) celebrates after hitting a two run homer against New York Yankees relief pitcher Justin Wilson (34) during tenth inning action Friday, May 28, 2021, at Comerica Park in Detroit Mich.
Detroit Tigers left fielder Robbie Grossman (8) celebrates after hitting a two run homer against New York Yankees relief pitcher Justin Wilson (34) during tenth inning action Friday, May 28, 2021, at Comerica Park in Detroit Mich.

"I want to do everything I can to help this team win every day, or I feel like I let them down," Grossman said. "Like today when one swing helped the team win, it makes me feel good."

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Grossman pointed at first base coach Ramon Santiago and slapped his hand in celebration. He flipped his helmet into the atmosphere as he approached home plate, where his teammates were waiting to mob him. Matthew Boyd, the leader of the pitching staff, hugged him.

Hinch hugged him outside the dugout.

"At the top of the order, the professional at-bat is as good as we've got, and it's as good as you need," Hinch said about Grossman, his leadoff hitter. "He can do a lot of things from both sides of the plate. He's very influential. I trust him a ton. He deserves moments like this."

But it wasn't just Friday against the Yankees.

Grossman has been carrying the Tigers this month, doing exactly what the organization hoped he would — if not more — when they signed him to a two-year, $10 million contract in January. Hinch wanted Grossman, a role player in his past, to evolve into the player his teammates lean on.

In May, Grossman is hitting .290 with six doubles, two triples, four home runs, 17 RBIs, 17 walks and 22 strikeouts in 24 games. He has a .395 on-base percentage and seems to get involved in most scoring opportunities.

He leads the Tigers with a season-long .372 on-base percentage, which is better than Jeimer Candelario's .356 on-base percentage. For perspective, Candelario has reached base safely in 24 consecutive games.

"It means most to me just being a part of this team and, I talked about it when I signed, to have expectations," Grossman said. "I take it as a compliment."

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Detroit Tigers left fielder Robbie Grossman (8) smiles from the dugout before the game against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park on May 28, 2021.
Detroit Tigers left fielder Robbie Grossman (8) smiles from the dugout before the game against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park on May 28, 2021.

Grossman has played 776 games across nine seasons for the Houston Astros (2013-15), Minnesota Twins (2016-18), Oakland Athletics (2019-20) and Tigers in 2021. He wasn't an established leadoff hitter on the free-agent market. He didn't have a ton of power, but there were signs he would slug more this season. He still had a lot to prove at age 31.

An even bigger test: Becoming a leader.

"He's doing great with it, and I expected nothing less out of him when we signed him, that he was going to be a presence and an impactful guy by how he works," Hinch said May 16. "If he didn't say one word, how he works and how he conducts his day-to-day was going to be noticed by the rest of the players."

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They worked out a deal, even though it wasn't going to be a one-year contract. He was the first multi-year signing for the franchise since the 2015-16 offseason, when they signed Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey, Mark Lowe and Justin Upon.

As for the $5 million per year? The money spent seems well worth it.

Grossman's leadership is required to build a winning culture for the future.

"That's all you can ask for, is to be on a team that expects to win," Grossman said. "You see the fight that the guys have, and we're never out of any game. Some haven't gone our way, but we're in it until the last out."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' AJ Hinch: Robbie Grossman 'deserves moments like this'