JaCoby Jones delivers again, as excitement builds for Tigers heading into September

DETROIT -- He would've had no trouble reaching home plate without even dirtying his uniform, but that didn't stop JaCoby Jones from executing an exuberant head-first slide as he scored the game-winning run for the Detroit Tigers in the club's 3-2 victory against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.

With his superlative speed, he would've beat the throw to home easily, but it was an appropriate exclamation point on what has already been an unbelievable past few days for the 24-year-old prospect.

Called up to make his Tigers debut on Tuesday, he notched an RBI double that was not only his first major league hit but also gave his club the go-ahead run in an 8-4 comeback win against the White Sox. Less than 24 hours later, he recorded two more extra-base hits, the last of which was a critical leadoff double in the ninth that set up the winning run.

When he made a break for home on pinch-hitter Tyler Collins' sacrifice fly, he was greeted at home plate by veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler, who hoisted him into the air with such timing and precision you could have sworn it was choreographed.

"It was kind of perfect," Jones said of the celebration following the game. "I hope someone took a picture of it."

There will be, no doubt, photographic evidence of Jones' second storybook moment in as many days. Even if not, it likely created an indelible image for the cadre of Tigers fans starting to feel the excitement percolating as September approaches.

And in many ways, it's a fitting symbol of the mixture brewing in Detroit as the Tigers gear up for what promises to be a full-throttle playoff run: a lineup that is comprised of steady, experienced veterans intermingled with the verve and moxie of talented youngsters -- guys like Jones, rookie pitcher Michael Fulmer and fellow young starters Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd.

"Although the experience of a veteran is probably, over a long season, more important, there's definitely something to the fact that a young player or young players can bring that excitement, just because the big league atmosphere is new to them, to the ballclub," manager Brad Ausmus said.

Jones' earnest, wide-eyed energy has provided an irrefutable boost to the clubhouse and the dugout since his call-up (a decision that was made by general manager Al Avila, at the urging of Jim Leyland, Alan Trammell and David Chadd), and not just because of his bat. His arrival injected a different sort of life into the lineup, one that sorely misses spark plug Cameron Maybin's presence for however long he is ailing.

"He's an exciting player," Kinsler told ESPN.com. "He has speed. He's not scared. He plays the game hard. He's not going to get cheated. He's fun to watch."

Jones has thrived on the stage upon which he has been thrust, and the Tigers have fed off that enthusiasm.

"He's not in awe," Kinsler said. "He's not scared. He's ready to play."

But if his presence has provided a jolt, Justin Verlander's poise on the mound has provided a calming effect when the Tigers have needed it most.

Since the All-Star break, Verlander leads all qualified pitchers in WHIP (0.80), opponent OPS (.518) and strike percentage (69.5), according to ESPN Stats & Info. He surrendered back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game but went on to retire ten straight afterward and record nine strikeouts for the day.

Should he continue as he has through September, he not only has a chance to help propel the Tigers toward the playoffs, he has a chance to land himself squarely in the AL Cy Young conversation. Not too many people would've taken those odds for him to return to pitching at this level, but he always believed.

"It's more to be healthy," Verlander said. "That was something I took for granted the past eight years."

With Wednesday's late-inning rally, which was fueled by a game-tying, two-out RBI single from J.D. Martinez off White Sox ace Chris Sale in the eighth inning, the Tigers completed a sweep heading into their next series: a three-game set against the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals. The Royals have won seven of their last ten games entering Wednesday night's matchup against the New York Yankees.

They enter that series trying to make up ground against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians and trying to prevent the streaking Royals from nipping at their heels.

Scoreboard watching was not a familiar practice within the Tigers clubhouse at this juncture last year, not because it was prohibited, but because it was futile. Now, there is purpose to each game, each at-bat and each pitch.

And as the Tigers have proven, despite a concerning breadth of injuries, this is a club that is comfortable and confident in counterpunching and coming back from behind.

They have a host of characters capable of delivering the knockout blow, and on Wednesday, it was Jones' turn to deliver it.

"I'm glad this is happening right now," Jones said. "Hearing the crowd, that gives me chills."