Detroit — Harold Castro was, for much of Saturday’s Detroit Tigers game against the Chicago Cubs, a study in baseball frustration.
In the third inning he hit a bullet, 98.6 mph off the bat that Statcast showed had an expected batting average of .520. That ball died in the glove of right fielder Jason Heyward. Then he struck out in the fourth, sixth and eighth innings.
“I knew something good was going to happen to me from that first at-bat (in the third),” Castro said. “I knew something good was going to come to me.”
Trust the baseball gods.
With two outs in the 10th inning, against closer Craig Kimbrel, Castro lined a single to left scoring JaCoby Jones from second and giving the Tigers a thrilling 9-8 walk-off win at Comerica Park.
“Those first at-bats were a little tough,” he said. “But I have to be prepared every at-bat. When I get in the on-deck circle, I’ve got to prepare for every situation in the game. That’s what I did.”
It was the first career walk-off for Castro and he was mobbed by teammates in center field.
“Amazing,” he said. “It feels good.”
It was a sudden end to a hard-fought, four-hour game that featured six lead changes and 14 pitchers.
“They put up a couple of runs in the first and we responded,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “They put up a couple more runs in the third and we responded. They took the lead in the 10th and we responded.
“It was a huge team win for us, something I feel good about going home tonight. They gave me a nice little birthday present.”
Oh yes, Saturday was Hinch’s 47th birthday.
“We asked a lot out of our pitchers today,” said Hinch, who deployed five relievers after starter Jose Urena left in the third. “Yes, we gave up a few runs in the middle of the game but as the game got close and our offense kept fighting back, our pitching really responded.”
Relievers Tyler Alexander (two innings), Jose Cisnero and Michael Fulmer pitched four innings of scoreless, hitless baseball, the sixth through the ninth.
But the Cubs scored a run in the top of the 10th. Fulmer ended a clean ninth inning by striking out shortstop Javier Baez with a 98-mph fastball. But as the rules dictate, Fulmer had to start the 10th with Baez on second base.
With one out, Matt Duffy knocked in his fifth run of the game with a line single to right, giving the Cubs the lead, 8-7. In the fifth inning, Duffy hit a three-run home run off reliever Alex Lange to take the Cubs from two runs down to one run up, 7-6.
“We could have thrown anything at Duffy today and it felt like we weren’t going to get him out,” Hinch said.
The Tigers started the bottom of the 10th with Niko Goodrum at second and he scored the tying run on a one-out RBI single by Nomar Mazara. Hinch had forewarned Jones that he would be running for somebody in the 10th.
“He was looking at video on the iPad (of Kimbrel’s pickoff moves) in the dugout beforehand,” Hinch said. “He was going to run for either Miggy (Cabrera), Nomar or (Jonathan) Schoop.”
Jones got a tremendous jump and stole second, setting the stage for Castro, who lined the second pitch from Kimbrel into short left field.
“I saw the at-bats before me and I saw he was starting with the fastball in,” Castro said. “I was ready to swing at that pitch. But he threw a slider (actually a knuckle-curve). But I knew right away he was going to throw that fastball in (on the next pitch). That’s what he threw me and I caught it.”
Still, Kris Bryant in left came up throwing while Jones was barely around third. Third-base coach Chip Hale aggressively waived him home.
“You’ve got to risk something to get some payoff,” Hinch said. “That throw was just off line (it hit Jones in the back). It was an aggressive send and it was aggressive baserunning. But if we’re not standing on second (after the stolen base), we don’t have that opportunity and we have to get another hit off Kimbrel.
“Which is a tall order.”
The Tigers tied the score at 7-7 in the seventh. Miguel Cabrera, who had knocked in a run with a ground ball in the fourth, fought out of an 0-2 hole against reliever Ryan Tepera. He worked the count even and then, seeing a cutter for the fourth time in the at-bat, reached out on one ankle high and rolled it up the middle.
Baez flagged it down but had no play.
“It’s just a mindset that we have in the clubhouse,” Castro said. “In baseball we’re going to have tough moments. But they are in the past. You just keep playing hard like we did. We know the results are going to be there.”
The Tigers had two players knocked out of the game. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario was hit on his left knee leading off the sixth inning by a cutter from Cubs reliever Dan Winkler.
“It was really hurting him,” Hinch said. “He tried to stay in the game but Doug (Teter, head athletic trainer) could already feel it swelling up. I was going to give him Sunday off anyway. We will see where he’s at after that.”
Urena, who lasted just 2 2/3 innings, was drilled in the right leg by a line drive by Joc Pederson that left the bat with an exit velocity of 109 mph leading off the third inning.
The ball caromed right to Cabrera at first base for an out. Albeit a painful out.
Urena stayed in the game but didn’t finish the third inning.
“He was hit right above the ankle,” Hinch said. “I didn’t like the way he covered first base and that’s when I started to get (Daniel Norris) up. He was moving around pretty good. He was jumping around in the clubhouse, so that’s a good sign.”
Urena was already getting an extra day between starts because of the off-day next week.
“I’m pretty optimistic about him,” Hinch said.
But how about the Tigers, scoring nine runs without a home run, with 11 singles and three doubles and drawing seven walks.
“In these situations I’m always reminded of some old coaches who used to say, ‘Beat them with a single. Beat them with a single,’ ” Hinch said. “That’s what we kept saying in the dugout. And there’s nobody better when you need a single than Harold Castro.”
They don’t call him Hitting Harold for nothing.