By Will Burchfield
24-year-old JaCoby Jones has an addiction. The more he feeds it, the hungrier it grows.
So there he was on Friday afternoon in the Tigers clubhouse, high off the team’s 6-5 victory over the Red Sox and craving more of that heady drug.
“We got the W, so hopefully we can continue to do that,” Jones said, “and get some more W’s.”
‘W’s.’ This is all Jones wants.
The Tigers have two of them on this young season, with Jones playing a big role on each occasion. He drilled a three-run homer in Detroit’s opening-day victory in Chicago, and on Friday, in the team’s home-opener, he worked a two-out, bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning to drive home the winning run.
“I wanted to put the ball in play, but I drew a walk and got the RBI so it’s all good,” Jones said. “We got the win.”
The W, that is.
For a kid who’s played just eight games at Comerica Park, Jones has racked up some pretty special moments in front of the hometown fans. There was his MLB debut last August in which the rookie picked up two hits, two RBI and helped the Tigers to an 8-4 win. And there was his encore the following afternoon, when he delivered a pinch-hit double in the ninth inning and came around to score the winning run.
But Friday was something else.
The home-opener. The sellout crowd. The legacy of the late Mike Ilitch hovering in the air.
The Tigers had unveiled a ‘Mr. I’ decal in front of their dugout before the game, and perhaps Jones glanced at it as he took his swings in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the eighth. “I know he’s looking down on us,” he would say afterward.
Tack on the score and the situation — 5-5, bases loaded, two outs — and it was all Jones could do to keep from swinging out of his shoes.
“Obviously I wanted to hit one in the gap and drive in some runs,” he said, “but I was just being patient up there, (taking) what he gave me and what he threw me.”
Manager Brad Ausmus, watching intently from the dugout, was impressed with Jones’ approach.
“He did a very good job of calming himself, not going out of the zone. He was able to control the emotions and slow the game down,” Ausmus said. “That’s what you worry about with young guys. As soon as they see the white of the ball in a big situation, they swing — and he didn’t do that.”
Well, he did at first.
But after taking a mighty hack at Joe Kelly’s first offering, a 98 mph heater, Jones laid off two fastballs outside. He ran the count full, the crowd growing louder with every pitch, and then let a slider go by for ball four, bringing home Justin Upton from third.
“That was probably one of the biggest, coolest at-bats of my entire life because I’ve never heard the fans scream that loud,” Jones said. “I had to step out of the box, take a deep breath and just take it all in, but stay focused at the same time. It was great, I had a fun time doing that. Hopefully I can get in a few more situations like that.”
He’s got an addictive personality, this dude.
In the past, Jones has had a hard time laying off pitches out of the zone. He has found breaking balls especially hard to resist. But he worked hard to shake this habit in the offseason, and it paid off in a big way on Friday afternoon.
“I think that’s just maturity and getting more at-bats and just getting older and seeing more pitching. That’s why they sent me to the (Arizona) Fall League, and then coming into spring training and carrying that over, it was good,” Jones said. “Hopefully I can continue my success.”
Baseball’s a funny game. Jones’ hallmark is his speed, and the “coolest at-bat of (his) entire life” culminated in…a walk. Not that he cares to distinguish.
“Anytime you can get an RBI in any situation is huge,” he said, “but in that circumstance it was even greater because it was a game-winning RBI.
“I’m glad it happened and we got the W.”
That’s all Jacoby’s jonesing for.