Ten years since Tigers last made it, this World Series features some Detroit flavor

Detroit News

On Friday, it’ll have been been 10 years to the day since the Tigers last played in the World Series.

It was a frigid Sunday night in downtown Detroit in 2012, Oct. 28, when just about 10 minutes before midnight, Miguel Cabrera took a fastball right down the middle for strike three, setting off a celebration for the San Francisco Giants, who swept the series.

The Tigers should’ve made it back to the Fall Classic 2013, when they compiled arguably their best roster in this latest Detroit baseball renaissance, but a fat meatball to David Ortiz in Boston turned that American League Championship Series on Torii Hunter’s head. In 2014, under a new manager, the Tigers made the playoffs for a fourth straight year, but, inexplicably, were swept by the Baltimore Orioles, despite starting Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price.

Detroit hasn’t made it back to the postseason since, and have had just one winning season since.

While the Tigers are embarking on yet another overhaul — new president Scott Harris has replaced Al Avila, fired after seven years as GM this summer — three ex-Tigers and a Detroit native will take center stage in the 2022 World Series, when the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros take the field for Game 1 on Friday night.

For the Phillies, president Dave Dombrowski has taken a fourth different team to a World Series, while Nick Castellanos will appear in his first. For the Astros, Justin Verlander will pitch in his fourth World Series and attempt to win his second, while Hunter Brown, a rookie, will play in his first.

Dombrowski

Dombrowski is a bit of a polarizing figure in MLB circles, given the game has transitioned big-time toward new-school, or analytical, thinking in constructing a roster. But Dombrowski has remained true to his roots, which date to when he was a 22-year-old whippersnapper in the Chicago White Sox front office in the late 1970s.

Dombrowski prefers stars, and often big-money stars, to unproven albeit talented commodities, believing they will rise to the occasion when the games matter most. And his system certainly has worked. This is the fifth team he has taken to the World Series, and only one of them (the 2006 Tigers) didn’t have a top-five payroll. He won the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins (fifth-highest) and the 2018 World Series with the Boston Red Sox (highest), and also took the 2012 Tigers (fifth-highest) to the World Series. The 2022 Phillies have the fourth-highest payroll in MLB.

Say what you want about Billy Beane’s “Moneyball,” but Beane has never won a World Series. Dombrowski is poised to win his third, which would punch his ticket to Cooperstown, if it hasn’t already been punched.

Dombrowski’s M.O. is being bold. That’s what he was with the Tigers, when he guided them to the greatest stretch of sustained success in the franchise’s history. And that’s what he’s been again with the Phillies, handing out big-buck contracts to the likes of J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber and Castellanos, trading for Noah Syndergaard, and firing manager Joe Girardi, a manager with a World Series title on his resume, in June after the team started 22-29.

The Phillies turned the season around and got into the playoffs as the sixth seed of six teams in the National League, and dispatched the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres en route to the World Series, the club’s first since making back-to-back appearances in 2008 (won) and 2009 (lost) — on the strength of dynamite pitching, especially (look away, Tigers fans) the bullpen.

Philadelphia was just 82-80 last season, its first winning season since 2011, which was the last of five straight postseason appearances. The turnaround wasn’t quite on par with his Detroit revival, but it’s mighty impressive, even if such key pieces like Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler already were in place when he arrived in Philadelphia.

“I hoped it would happen, but I can’t tell you I had a time frame on it,” Dombrowski, 66, who was leading the effort to bring an expansion team to Nashville, when the Phillies came calling, told reporters last week. “Because everybody kept telling me it was going to take a while and we’re not right there.”

Castellanos

Most of Castellanos’ 10-year major-league career has been spent on losing teams. He made the playoffs with the Tigers in his rookie year, 2013, and made it with the Cincinnati Reds as a wild-card team during the 2020 COVID year.

Now, Castellanos, the 44th overall pick by the Tigers in 2010, is in the World Series, after catching the final out and raising his arms high as the Phillies beat the Padres to clinch the Fall Classic ticket. Castellanos gave the ball to teammate Bryce Harper, the series MVP.

“It’s his time,” Castellanos told reporters. “I know it, I think everybody knows it. I wanted to make sure that he enjoys it and it’s something that he can hold onto.”

It hasn’t been the best season for Castellanos. Far from it. After a 34-homer, 100-RBI season with the Reds last year, Castellanos posted a .694 OPS during this regular season, the lowest mark of his career not counting his 11-game cameo as a rookie in 2013. Not exactly what Dombrowski expected in signing him for five years and $100 million. Castellanos had 130 strikeouts during the regular season, and swung at more pitchers than any other player in MLB.

But he’s still plenty dangerous with the bat, and he did have five RBIs in the National League Division Series victory over the Braves, and also had a tremendous sliding catch that helped save that series. That’s kind of interesting, considering Castellanos never could find a position in Detroit. He projected as a DH, but only DH’d 12 times in 2022.

Castellanos, now 30, played for the Tigers from 2013 until the middle of 2019, when Detroit, well into its rebuild, traded him to the Chicago Cubs. He played two seasons with the Reds before opting out of that contract and joining the Phillies — and reuniting with Dombrowski — over the winter.

He’s perhaps best-known throughout baseball for doing something special at the plate just as broadcasters are getting into an unusually heavy conversation — like an apology for homophobic comments (home run), a eulogy for a World War II veteran (home run), an acknowledgement of a DUI (first hit as a Phillie), and a discussion about Gold Star mothers (home run).

Phillies fans will pay close attention if Fox broadcasters, and Michigan natives, Joe Davis and John Smoltz go off-topic.

Verlander

When the Tigers traded Verlander, arguably the greatest pitcher in franchise history, in the summer of 2017, it signaled the official end to Detroit’s baseball renaissance — and fans were sad, though understanding. Even before he ever pitched a game for the Astros, though, there were talks in the Tigers’ front office about bringing him back when the Tigers were ready to contend again. They targeted the 2023 season, which, as it turned out, ended up being the year the Tigers were expected to legitimately contend again, until they fell on their face and were out of it before summer.

The Tigers never did go after Verlander last offseason, though, because he was coming off Tommy John surgery. It’s a long road back for any pitcher from Tommy John, let alone one entering his age-39 season, as Verlander was. So Detroit passed, Verlander signed a one-year deal with Houston, and the rest is history. Or, historic.

Verlander was 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in 28 starts, with 185 strikeouts in 175 innings. It was arguably his greatest season yet, and that includes his Cy Young-MVP season in 2011, and his Cy Young season in 2019. Verlander could become the 11th pitcher to win at least three Cy Young awards, joining a heap of legends, plus old Tigers teammate, Max Scherzer.

Verlander will be a free agent again this offseason, and figures to sign one more mega contract. Verlander, who hit 101 mph in a 2006 playoff game and 98 mph in a 2022 playoff game, is the modern-day Nolan Ryan, so it’s not out of the question he could still be thriving on the mound well into his mid-40s.

The contract, though, is a story for another day. More importantly to Verlander is another World Series title. He never did win one in Detroit, despite two cracks at it. This would be his second in six seasons (five of which he played) in Houston, and could go a long way toward determining which logo one day ends up on his Hall of Fame plaque. Verlander will start Game 1 in Houston.

This will be the third time Verlander will start Game 1 of a World Series, and the first two didn’t go well — six earned runs in five innings in 2006, and five earned runs in four innings in 2012. In fact, for all his accomplishments throughout the years, including a host of dominating postseason performances, Verlander still has never won a World Series game, in seven starts. His team has won only one of those.

“I don’t care how great you are, or what your track record says, that’s why you play the game,” Astros manager Dusty Baker told reporters earlier this postseason, after Verlander struggled in his 2022 playoff debut.

This will be his 34th playoff appearance, and 33rd start.

Brown

When Verlander was building a Hall-of-Fame resume in the Olde English D, Brown was just a kid, often watching from the Comerica Park stands. Born in Detroit, Brown attended St. Clair Shores Lakeview High School, before pitching for three seasons at Wayne State.

The Astros drafted him in the fifth round of the 2019 MLB Draft and he quickly ascended up Houston’s food chain, starting at low-A ball in 2019, missing all of 2020 because of the COVID pandemic, and splitting time between Double A and Triple A in 2021. After impressing in spring camp, he posted a 2.55 ERA in 23 appearances (14 starts) at Triple A this season — he was the Astros’ minor-league pitcher of the year — before he was promoted to the major-league ballclub, where he’s already been so much of a force, some are taking to calling him the next Verlander.

Verlander, Brown’s idol, has been a mentor this season, dating all the way back to the spring.

“He said, ‘Just have a good season and do your thing and go out there and pitch,’” Brown told reporters during spring training. “I modeled a lot of my game after Verlander. It’s really cool being on the phone with him.”

Now, he’s on the same field as him, making the roster for both postseason series. Brown threw three scoreless innings over two outings in the AL Division Series win over the Seattle Mariners, including two innings of the 18-inning Houston win in the clinching Game 3.

More: Astros pitcher, Wayne State product Hunter Brown prepares for homecoming

Brown threw two-thirds of an inning in a win over the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series.

Brown, 24, could become the first Wayne State alum to win a World Series. Three other Wayne State alums played in a World Series, but lost — and none of those three, Southfield native Ted Simmons, Ben Oglivie and George Thomas, actually played baseball for Wayne State. They all attended the school during their major-league playing days, including Oglivie and Thomas during their time with the Tigers.

Brown is one of two Wayne State alums currently in the major leagues, along with fellow right-hander Anthony Bass, who also made the postseason this year, with the Toronto Blue Jays.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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