Somewhere In Pennsylvania — While the baseball world gaped in awe over Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run on Tuesday night, a much rarer feat went almost entirely unacknowledged. And for good reason. Both the Detroit Tigers and their utility rookie Kody Clemens (yes, youngest son of Roger) have suffered through seasons to forget, and only the top one percent of Tigers sickos have continued to follow them through these irrelevant final weeks of the regular season. The team is 66-95, a whole 20 games back of the closest playoff spot. Clemens himself has a negative WAR through his first 126 MLB plate appearances, posting a barely perceptible .147 batting average and .509 OPS since getting called up around Memorial Day. (He will, at least, always have his strikeout of Shohei Ohtani.)
Tuesday’s doubleheader in Seattle mostly brought more pain. The Tigers put up a decent fight, given their lowly status, but the team that actually still has meaningful games ahead of them this year outlasted the underdogs, first 7-6 in a 10-inning game and then 9-6 in the nightcap. But in Game 2’s top of the fifth, as the Mariners led 4-1, the Tigers strung together three straight singles to put Clemens at the plate with the bases loaded against Justus Sheffield (no relation to Gary), who was making his first start of the season. Clemens fell behind 1-2, fouled off a delicious-looking slider, and then made great contact on a similar follow-up pitch. The ball sailed high and deep into right field, leaving no doubt whatsoever on its path over the wall and into the seats. Clemens had given the Tigers the lead, 5-4, with his first career grand slam.
I missed seeing Judge’s 62nd home run live, so my memories of it will forever be scattered and untied to a specific place and time. I also didn’t see Clemens’s grand slam as it happened, because I’m normal, but the aftermath will never leave my brain. As you may have heard, Defector is gathered in one place this week for a whole bunch of meetings. In the evenings, Kelsey, Luis, and I have taken to inviting the whole gang to our Party Cabin, where we partake in such behavior as playing Nintendo 64 and watching exhibition basketball. Around midnight or so, people were taking off, and noted Tigers devotee Maitreyi Anantharaman needed a ride back to her own cabin.
This ride was delayed, however, because Maitreyi wanted to see Kody Clemens get his grand slam acknowledged on the ESPN2 bottom line. Not an actual clip of the grand slam, mind you, but just a mention on the ticker.
She made Jasper stand bundled up in the doorway, half-outside, for what felt like five minutes while she waited rapt in front of the TV, watching Champions League scores scroll by, just to get that “Clemens: GS (1).” The “MLB Races” section finally arrived, the first Tigers-Mariners game passed, then the second one appeared. The subhead said “Doubleheader Game 2.” And then … nothing. Like a sand castle taken by a wave, it was as if the grand slam had never happened. Nobody watching the channel would have been any wiser about Clemens’s accomplishment.
In the cold light of the morning I demanded that Maitreyi explain herself, and she was game enough to give some insight into her state of mind:
Kody is pretty bad. Do you remember when he got called up and was like 0-for-25 to start his major league career? I remember musing to my brother that he probably would finish with fewer MLB hits than his dad. However, young Kody does have a knack for insanely funny and improbable home runs. I keep a running Notes app list of dumb 2022 Tigers moments, and one is the homer he hit off unhittable Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase, and another is the one he hit off All-Star reliever Joe Mantiply in Arizona.
So I would say it was exciting to see Kody continue this trend of showing up when you least expect it (you really do never expect it with him) and also thrilling to watch the score change from Tigers down 4-1 to up 5-4 on the MLB app, which is how I was following the game. In the second between the score changing and the app play-by-play updating with what Kody Clemens did, my mind raced through all the possibilities. His batting average is like .145, so some kind of disastrous four-run multi-position fielding error definitely came to mind before grand slam. Then I allowed myself to dream. “No…could it be?” And it was!
I asked if she had any regrets about following the Tigers so closely in such a pointless October, and she responded with impossible-seeming buoyancy.
“None different from the usual regrets I have following the Tigers in other weeks,” Maitreyi said. “I have bad separation anxiety when I’m traveling and away from my teams and my channels too long, so I’m grateful to those little dots on the MLB app for keeping me informed. I curse my piece-of-shit Tigers each night, but I know I’ll miss these guys when the season ends. So I’m trying to make the most of the time we have left together.”
Then she told me to make sure I mention in the blog that the Tigers have actually won four straight series.