While Berry’s overall numbers don’t jump off the page -– a .290 average, two home runs, 22 RBI -– his play on the field has been a catalyst for the Tigers’ resurgence. Since his call up on May 24, the Tigers have gone 33-21 and moved from six games back in third place to a first place tie with Chicago.
Often batting second in the order behind Jackson, Berry generates offense even when he doesn’t get hits, thus setting the table for Cabrera, Fielder, and others to drive him in. An example came during the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Angels on July 16.
Trailing 5-4, Berry singled to start the inning and immediately stole second base. After Cabrera grounded out and Fielder walked, he stole third. Delmon Young followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Berry and tied the game. The next batter, Brennan Boesch, hit a two-run home run and Detroit took a 7-5 lead en route to an 8-6 victory.
“It doesn’t matter how I get it,” Berry said. “Whether it’s a hit by pitch or a strikeout swinging where the ball gets past the catcher, it doesn’t matter. We need runs. It’s all about winning up here.”
In just 54 games, Berry leads the team in stolen bases (15 for 15), is tied for the American League lead in triples (5), and has had eight games where he’s had at least three hits – including a five-hit game against Colorado on June 17. On June 21 against St. Louis, he had his first career game-winning hit with a bases loaded single in the 10th inning.
“I’ve been in situations that have been clutch and I’ve been able to get a couple of hits,” Berry said, noting that he wants to be known as a complete player and not just for his speed. “I try to think about what I’m doing and have a particular approach whether it’s defensively, offensively, on the base paths, and not just being known for my speed.”
With Berry’s addition to the lineup, and Jackson’s return from injury, the Tigers are now the only MLB team to regularly start four African-American players (Jackson, Berry, Fielder, and Young). With the number of black players in MLB at an all-time low, Jackson, Berry, and Fielder have become the faces of aspiring black baseball players in the Metro Detroit area.
Berry’s emotion on the field — whether it’s his clapping after reaching base, fist-pumps after big plays, or his speed on the bases — has made him a fan favorite in Detroit. The Tigers started selling his No. 52 jersey and t-shirts in the team’s store last week, and he’s already appearing in promos for the team on television.
“He’s done great,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “He’s changed the look of our team. He’s given us a little excitement and changed the way that we play. He’s just done a terrific job and is a real pleasant surprise.”
He has also compiled a number of highlight reel catches. On May 27, during the eighth inning against Minnesota, Berry took what would’ve been a triple away from Twins shortstop Jamey Carroll with a diving catch (the Tigers would win the game in the ninth).
There was also the diving catch he made to end last Friday’s 4-2 win over the White Sox, robbing Paul Konerko of a double. The most impressive catch, however, came in Baltimore on July 13.
Orioles’ third baseman Wilson Betemit hit what appeared to be a home run before Berry made a leaping catch as it was headed over the fence. That play was especially sweet because it came in front of his best friend, Orioles all-star centerfielder Adam Jones.
“It was fun to get out in the box out there and see him,” said Berry, who grew up with Jones in San Diego. “He’s the godfather of my son. He’s been a huge part of my life and a huge part of my baseball career and to finally get a chance to play against each other, it was awesome.”
His newfound cult status has not changed his humble nature. He openly talks about how much he appreciates the fans and his chance to play after nearly seven years of struggling.
“I’ve said it from the beginning that these fans have been great,” Berry said, flashing a big smile as he was handed a No. 52 t-shirt. “They’ve been supportive of me and my family and every time I hear them giving me support, it means the world to me.
“I’m just glad that it’s working out this way because I put all my cards out on the table and they could fall any way they want to. Luckily for me, they’ve been falling in the right direction.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter @JayScottSmith