Kansas City Royals rookie slugger Vinnie Pasquantino smashed 24 home runs last season in the minors between High-A and Double-A, and he’d already piled up 18 in 69 games at Triple-A this season prior to being called up to the majors.
Of course none were like the one he hit on Friday night in a 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound left-handed hitting 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 homer, a solo shot, came against Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Pineda.
The previous blasts didn’t come on the same type of stage, with the same sort of emotion, anticipation and excitement. Nor did any of those include him getting tagged out by Javier Baez while sliding into second base.
“I wish he could’ve kept his pants clean,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said with a grin. “You don’t always want to see a guy on his first homer have to slide. I don’t know how that got missed. It’s a shame because it took away from it a little bit because of all the confusion. But that ball was blistered.”
The home run, the hardest-hit homer of the season by a Royals batter (112.7 mph exit velocity), was a line drive that hit the railing in right field above the wall.
Because the ball hit the railing and bounced back into play, it wasn’t immediately clear if he’d hit a home run, and the outfielder played the ball off the wall and threw to second base.
— Bally Sports Kansas City (@BallySportsKC) July 2, 2022
Pasquantino ran out of the box with his head down and followed the instruction of first-base coach Damon Hollins to run hard. With the throw coming into second base, he slid to try to avoid a tag. The umpire at second base did initially signal he’d been tagged out.
Pasquantino, who made his major-league debut on Wednesday, said part of the problem was that he’d watched enough video to know Baez is an “unbelievable tagger.” So Pasquantino was scared of getting fooled into making an out on the bases.
“He was in the middle of the baseline and I’m thinking I just can’t get deked out right here,” Pasquantino said. “I have to run hard to second base to try to get there, because halfway to second I realized I was going to get thrown out. I just didn’t want to let him deke me, come to find out he was telling me to slow down so I could jog around the bases for my first homer.”
As far as the slide taking something away from his first home run in the majors, Pasquantino actually had a different reaction.
In his mind, it was fitting.
“I think I’m a little bit happier that there was some drama involved with it,” Pasquantino said. “If anybody has been following me, my first home run in spring training went off the center-field wall in Tempe against (the Angels) and I jogged to second and sprinted home because I thought it was not a homer. So I tried to make it an inside-the-park homer.
“Tonight, it was just pretty much the opposite. I mean, I got tagged out by Javy Baez at second base on my first career homer. That’s pretty cool. So he’s going to get a jersey, and I hope he signs it for me. That’s a pretty cool moment to have. What helped more was it gave us a run, which helps a lot.”
First and foremost @VPasquantino was happy he contributed to a win tonight. But he also very much wanted to let folks know @Amir_Garrett hooked him up with some quality footwear. #Royals pic.twitter.com/FYe9I4oejb
— Lynn Worthy (@LWorthySports) July 2, 2022
Cleanup duty for the rookie
The memorable moment coincided with the first time the Royals slotted Pasquantino into the cleanup spot in the batting order behind fellow rookie Bobby Witt Jr. Pasquantino became the first Royals player to bat cleanup within his first three MLB starts since Joe Vitiello in 1995, according to Sportradar.
Prior to the game, Matheny spoke about the approach he hoped Pasquantino, a disciplined hitter throughout the minors, would have in the cleanup spot.
“He needs to do what he does,” Matheny said. “Ideally, you don’t do anything different regardless of where you are in the lineup. Whether it’s the first spot or the fourth spot, you’re in those spots because of how you’re going about your business. We want Vinnie to attack and be aggressive on pitches that he can do damage with.”
Well, two at-bats into the night Pasquantino had checked that box.
“I’m just happy to be in the lineup,” said Pasquantino, who went 1 for 4. “If your name is in the lineup, it’s always a special thing. I was joking with Bobby today that I’m his protection. That’s what I was today, I tried to make Bobby’s life a little easier. And I did not do a great job of that tonight.
“So it’s just one of those things. The lineup position doesn’t really matter. I’m happy to be in the lineup. I’m happy to have contributed to a win tonight. Tomorrow, who knows where I’ll be hitting. I’ll find out at some point. Wherever I’m hitting, I just want to help this team win ballgames. Tonight, I’m happy to say I did help the team win.”