DETROIT — For a split second, the Tigers looked set for another infield error, this one on a day when the team honored one of its greatest infielders. Instead, on the Tigers’ day to celebrate Lou Whitaker by retiring his number alongside Alan Trammell’s on the Comerica Park wall, Detroit cheered another dynamic duo.
“We don’t practice that,” manager A.J. Hinch joked following the Tigers’ 9-1 win. “We practice being in the right spot, but we don’t really practice the bobble to the catch.”
It was a rare 3-9 putout, and the kind of surprising play the Tigers needed Saturday to beat Rays All-Star and Cy Young candidate Shane McClanahan. The win, in front of an announced sellout crowd of 40,101 that ranked as their largest non-Opening Day attendance in exactly six years, was a reminder of what Comerica Park feels like with a packed house, and an example of what the Tigers can do when they’re on.
“It was really cool,” Willi Castro said. “I think when that crowd, they come and they’re in the game, we play much better. Having those fans, it’s really special.”
In fairness, this crowd had more to do with the pregame festivities than the matchup. While McClanahan had held the Tigers to one run and seven strikeouts in both of their previous meetings, most recently May 17 at Tropicana Field, Tigers starter Garrett Hill had given up 16 earned runs over his last four Tigers starts with more walks (10) than strikeouts (eight) since his gem of a debut against the Guardians on July 4.
Hill seemed poised for a similar fate when a walk and consecutive singles loaded the bases with one out in the first. He escaped with a Siri flyout to center, a strong throw home from Riley Greene — which Hill caught backing up home plate — to keep the runners from advancing, then a strikeout of Luke Raley.
That set a tone. Hill retired the side in order in only one inning, but retired nine of 10 batters following Siri’s flyout, the exception being Yu Chang’s second-inning homer for the Rays’ lone run. The Castros’ juggling tandem catch was part of the stretch, retiring Siri to begin the fourth inning, an out that came in handy after an infield single and a walk mounted a two-out threat.
Willi Castro has made some surprising catches in the last couple weeks, notably his lunging grab on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last weekend in Toronto. But this one was quirky.
“It was just reaction,” Willi Castro said. “When I saw it coming out of his glove, I just threw my glove there. I was just behind him, just anticipating.”
The crowd loved it, as did the Tigers dugout. The Rays, less so.
“I mean, I didn’t like the play,” Rays manager Kevin Cash deadpanned.
Hill mixed and matched pitches — 40 fastballs, 15 sliders, 14 changeups and sinkers and 10 curveballs — for 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball and a career-high six strikeouts. His 15 swings and misses were easily a career high and matched his total from his previous three starts combined. But that was just half the work; somehow, the Tigers had to hit McClanahan.
Again, the Castros teamed up.
“We just went out there with the mentality that he’s going to be aggressive with the fastball,” Willi Castro said. “We executed pretty good.”
While the switch-hitting Willi Castro has hit for a better average against left-handed pitching for his career, he has normally hit for more power off righties. That has changed this season with a more aggressive approach. On Saturday, his attack of McClanahan’s first-pitch fastball started the Tigers’ go-ahead two-run rally in the fifth inning with a one-out double that hopped off the left-field fence. Harold Castro, who has had more lefty-lefty matchups since the All-Star break with Spencer Torkelson in Triple-A Toledo, tied the game with a two-out single and then scored from first on a daring two-out send on Victor Reyes’ double.
The Castros teamed up again in the five-run seventh — Willi doubling off McClanahan, then Harold doubling him home off Jimmy Yacabonis.
“We just hung in there until we could break through,” Hinch said.