After extended breather, J-Up nearly delivers

Bradley Jr. almost makes spectacular catch to end game

After extended breather, J-Up nearly delivers

DETROIT -- Justin Upton spent three days out of the Tigers lineup, working with hitting coach Wally Joyner on his swing. His best swing on his return will go down as a 420-foot double, and his latest initiation to the deep dimensions of Comerica Park.

"I was obviously shocked, but at the same time, you know what park you play in," Upton said after his ninth-inning drive fell inches shy of a game-tying homer in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Red Sox. "It's a big yard out there."

Upton, signed by the Tigers last offseason, already had tough lessons on his new surroundings this season, from a ground-rule double to the deepest part of left-center field on May 17 to a long fly ball to right-center earlier this summer. For someone who had struggled to make consistent contact in his first season in the American League, he had more than his fair share of solid contact until the last few weeks, when a 1-for-31 slump prompted the Tigers to give him a break earlier this week.

He struck out twice in his return Saturday, but he also provided a ground ball through the middle for a leadoff single in the fifth inning off Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz. Still, not even three days of swing work could prepare him for Boston closer Craig Kimbrel with two outs in the ninth and a one-run game.

Upton was a teammate of Kimbrel for two seasons in Atlanta and San Diego, but hadn't faced him as an opponent since 2011. His only point was to not chase anything out of the zone.

"Just get a strike," Upton said.

After shrugging off two fastballs to get the count back to even, he got it. The ensuing drive, hit at 109 mph off the bat according to Statcast™, went high and deep toward the first-row shrubs in center field.

"Thankfully, Comerica is 420 feet to center," Red Sox manager John Farrell noted. "Upton did a good job of staying on top of a fastball that we try to elevate for a swing and miss."

Most of the remaining crowd, having waited through 2 1/2 hours of rain delays, rose to their feet, thinking it was gone. Upton rounded first and raised his arm, thinking he had tied the game. Still left to rise was Boston's highlight-reel center fielder, Jackie Bradley Jr., who had a read on the ball.

Bradley made a highlight at Comerica Park last August by running down a ball in deep right-center. What he tried for an encore Saturday, a leaping catch at the center-field wall, is unheard of at this park. It's so far away that few center fielders can get there from normal depth to make a catch on the warning track, let alone at the fence.

Bradley gave it his best shot, and he barely missed.

Not until after the ball fell did Upton realize it wasn't out. It didn't make a difference in him ending up at second base, but it symbolized what it can be like for a power hitter to play here.

"I hit that ball about as good as I could hit it," Upton said. "It just ended up a double."

Or as teammate James McCann put it, "I think it's gone in quite a few ballparks -- unfortunately, not Comerica."

It extended the game for Casey McGehee with the potential tying run in scoring position, but Kimbrel regrouped to strike him out on a pitch off the plate.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.