Detroit Tigers rookie left-hander Joey Wentz grew up watching Zack Greinke.
Wentz, born and raised near Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, idolized Greinke, whose first run with Royals went from 2004-2010, and included a Cy Young Award in 2009. This offseason, Greinke returned to his first team for what could be the final season of his 19-year career.
On Tuesday, Wentz and Greinke squared off in Detroit.
The veteran won the pitching duel, but the Tigers battled back against the Royals’ bullpen for a 4-3 victory in extra innings in the first of three games at Comerica Park. Harold Castro delivered a walk-off single into center field with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning.
“If you want a single, he finds a way to find the outfield grass,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He does an incredible job of hanging in there. … It’s important to play good baseball. At the end of the game, we did a really good job of getting our offense going.”
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Facing left-hander Anthony Misiewicz in the 10th, Tucker Barnhart bunted to advance free-runner Ryan Kreidler, who entered as a pinch runner, to third base. Pinch-hitter Eric Haase was intentionally walked, Riley Greene struck out swinging and Javier Báez drew another intentional walk, bringing Castro to the plate with two outs.
“We were getting into the shower as soon as they walked Javy,” Spencer Torkelson said. “We were like, ‘All right, you get Hittin’ Harold.’ Plus, he already had two knocks on the day. He’s an incredible hitter. We have all the confidence in the world when he gets up.”
It was Castro’s second walk-off hit of his career.
Castro, who finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs, declined to speak to reporters. He hasn’t spoken to reporters since May 16 in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“Winning is fun,” Greene said. “We’re going to try to win as many games as we can, whether we’re in the playoffs of not. We’re going to come out here, play hard every day, and we’re never going to give up.”
The Tigers (61-92) — winners in six of their past seven games, all since hiring Scott Harris as president of baseball operations — didn’t have two runners on base at the same time until the eighth inning, facing right-handed reliever Dylan Coleman.
For that, Greinke deserves credit.
Wentz, in his sixth MLB start, completed five innings on 70 pitches but conceded three runs; Greinke, in his 513th start, fired seven scoreless innings — his longest outing of the season — on 86 pitches.
“It’s a completely different matchup when they go to their bullpen,” Hinch said.
The Tigers were pleased to see Coleman and wasted no time loading the bases. Torkelson walked, Jonathan Schoop reached safely on a fielder’s choice and Akil Baddoo hustled for a bunt single with one out.
Greene scored Torkelson on a grounder to third base for the Tigers’ first run. The Royals challenged the call on the field, which was upheld. Third baseman Nate Eaton’s attempt to throw out Torkelson failed, since Torkelson blocked the throwing lane and forced catcher Salvador Perez to step off the plate.
After Javier Báez struck out, Castro drilled a two-run single with two outs to tie the score at three runs.
Five Tigers relievers combined for five scoreless innings, including right-handers Jose Cisnero in the ninth and Alex Lange in the 10th. The latter stranded runners on first and second base with a pop out and double play.
“He loves the moment,” Hinch said. “He loves being able to spin the ball and getting the ball off the barrel (of the bat). No moment is really too big for him, but if he can be in and around the strike zone, he’s really tough to hit.”
He’s still got it
The 38-year-old Greinke allowed a leadoff single to Greene in the first inning but retired Báez, Castro and Miguel Cabrera in order. Cabrera, a 20-year veteran, struck out twice and grounded into a double play in the seventh inning.
“He can really pitch,” Hinch said. “The art of pitching, which doesn’t get talked enough about nowadays with all the pitch characteristics, velocity and pitching up top, Zack can really pitch. He showed us tonight.”
In the third, Baddoo hit a grounder to Eaton at third base. Baddoo, thanks to his speed, beat the throw for an infield single. But he was picked off at first base on Greinke’s third attempt for the second out, with Greene in a 3-1 count. Greene ended up drawing a seven-pitch walk, but Báez flied out to end the inning.
Greinke, throwing 56 of 86 pitches for strikes, gave up four hits and one walk with two strikeouts. He relied on a blend of fastballs, changeups, curveballs and cutters. His fastball, changeup and cutter all produced two swings and misses for a total of six whiffs. He also generated 14 called strikes.
The Tigers averaged an 86.6 mph exit velocity on 20 balls in play.
Not to be left out
While Greinke issued just one free pass, Wentz buried himself with three walks (and five hits) compared to four strikeouts over five innings. His command wasn’t sharp, and his fastball averaged 91.2 mph, nearly 2 mph slower than normal. He needed 18 pitches in a two-run second inning and 25 pitches in a scoreless third.
“The fastball command wasn’t good tonight at all,” Wentz said.
A six-pitch leadoff walk to Edward Olivares came back to haunt Wentz in the second inning. The next batter, Hunter Dozier, skied a first-pitch cutter into the left-field corner. The ball — inside the foul pole — carried over the wall and into the seats for a two-run home run.
The Royals took a 2-0 lead.
“It wasn’t good,” Wentz said. “I was trying to go back door, and I went middle-middle. He hit it out of the park.”
In the third, Wentz faced Dozier again. This time, the Royals had two outs and two runners in scoring position. He caught Dozier looking at a 75.9 mph curveball in the strike zone for a crucial inning-ending strikeout.
To end his outing, Wentz needed 11 pitches in the fourth and seven in the fifth. Schoop at second base caught a line drive from MJ Melendez and doubled off Eaton retreating to third base, ending the fourth.
Before the double play, Eaton tripled — driving in Michael A. Taylor (walk) — to put the Royals ahead 3-0.
“He sprayed the ball enough for me to get him out of the game after five (innings),” Hinch said, “but I do like how he bounced back after the walk and the homer. There were just a lot of misfires tonight that he will try to bounce back from next time.”
Wentz threw 45 of his 70 pitches for strikes, using 31 four-seam fastballs (44%), 22 cutters (31%), 12 changeups (17%) and five curveballs (7%). He generated seven swings and misses, including six cutters, and 10 called strikes.
Contact Evan Petzold at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.