| The Detroit News
Kansas City, Mo. – When Matthew Boyd took the mound in the fourth inning Saturday, he might’ve thought he walked onto a different field.
Playing first base was his catcher – Austin Romine. Brandon Dixon was suddenly at second base. His second baseman was at shortstop. Eric Haase was now his catcher.
What the heck?
“That was pretty fun,” said Boyd, who finished his season with a six-inning quality start in a hard-earned 4-3 win over the Royals. “I don’t think I saw Dixon at second base since he was at Arizona. But that’s what makes it fun. It’s like, ‘Here you go, you are going to get our best right now.’
“That’s the attribute that winning teams have. You just have to get the job done no matter what the circumstances are.”
The Tigers stopped their five-game losing skid despite losing not one but two Castros early in the game.
“I told everybody in the dugout, nobody else gets hurt,” interim manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Otherwise I was going to have to activate (quality control coach) Josh Paul.”
Shortstop Willi Castro strained his right shoulder on a pair of swings-and-misses in the second inning. He finished the at-bat – poking an RBI single up the middle – but was lifted for a pinch-runner.
McClendon announced afterward that Willi Castro’s season is over. He will be placed on the injured list. Infielder Sergio Alcantara is with the team on the taxi squad, but McClendon wouldn’t commit to him being activated until Sunday.
Harold Castro, who started at first base, also hurt himself swinging, in the fourth inning. Initial report from the Tigers was lower back tightness.
“His back stiffened up but we hope he can be back in there tomorrow,” McClendon said.
Thus, the Tigers lost the first two hitters in their lineup by the fourth inning. Niko Goodrum moved from second base to shortstop and Dixon was inserted at second. Romine, who has played 20 games at first but none since 2017, was pretty much the only option to play first – other than designated hitter Miguel Cabrera or former first baseman now reliever Nick Ramirez.
With first baseman Jeimer Candelario already on the injured list, the Tigers had no other infielder on the bench.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, Boyd was pitching despite painful plantar fasciitis in his left heel.
“It flared up a week or so ago,” Boyd said. “But we got it to the point where I could pitch. It worked out.”
The Tigers built an early lead before the Castros departed, scoring three times in the first. With two outs, Goodrum singled home Harold Castro and Romine doubled in Miguel Cabrera and Goodrum.
After a walk to Isaac Paredes, rookie Derek Hill slapped a single to left – his first big-league hit. Romine tried to make it Hill’s first big-league RBI, too. Unfortunately, he tried to score from second against the arm of Royals left fielder Alex Gordon.
It ended up being a retirement gift for Gordon – who threw out Romine by a lot. It was the 102nd outfield assist for Gordon, who will play the final game of his career Sunday.
Willi Castro’s hit in the second inning plated the fourth run and provided a nice cushion for Boyd.
“He gave us a performance we really needed,” McClendon said. “He stepped up and gave us six solid innings.”
Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi continued to be a pain in the Tigers backside, though. He homered off Boyd in the first inning, doubled in a run and scored another in the third. After Boyd walked him in the fifth, Mondesi had tied a Royals record by reaching base 11 straight times.
“Up in the zone is a little bit of a weakness of his, but he can still hit it up there,” Boyd said. “The last time I faced him, we attacked him up and in. But he’s a smart hitter. He’s been around baseball for a lot of years and he had a plan.
“We went out to attack what we thought was a weakness and he got us. He’s a very talented player.”
Mondesi’s streak ended in the seventh, finally, when Joe Jimenez struck him out.
Still, Boyd held the lead. He fed the Royals a steady diet of breaking balls and off-speed pitches – 22 change-ups, 12 sliders, 11 curveballs. The average exit velocity on the 20 balls put in play against him was a soft 75 mph.
“The slider overall hasn’t been as consistent this year so we just leaned on the other stuff more because of that,” Boyd said. “And I learned how good my other stuff is and how to pitch with it.”
He turned a 4-3 lead over to the bullpen.
Jimenez got through the seventh, pitching around a one-out double by Whit Merrifield, who had three hits for the Royals. Jose Cisnero worked a clean eighth.
That left it up to closer Bryan Garcia, who upped the anxiety level by walking Alex Gordon to start the ninth. Speedy Nick Heath pinch-ran and took off for second base on the second pitch.
Haase threw a one-hop seed to second and Goodrum made a deft pick and tag.
The Royals eventual winning run on Friday night was set up by an uncontested steal of third base. On Saturday, the Tigers execute the play and get a critical out — snapping a string of four one-run losses.
“There is benefit from this going forward,” Boyd said. “We were in the playoff race until the last week of the season. The last year we could say that about was 2016 and you can count on one hand the guys who are still here from that team.
“These are the kind of games you need to win if you want to be this position next year, to be in the playoff race until the end of the last week. There is a lot of benefit to a win like this.”
The Tigers still don’t know if the game Sunday will be their last for 2020. The St. Louis Cardinals still haven’t clinched a postseason spot. They were shutout by the Brewers Saturday night.
If the Cardinals win Sunday (they start at 3:05 p.m.), the make-up doubleheader at Comerica Park Monday won’t be played. If they lose, it’s game on.