Detroit — Nick Castellanos got on a plane in Tampa, Fla., late Tuesday afternoon and was in such a hurry to get to Detroit he only wished it had been one of those old Concorde jets that flew at 1,300 mph.
But it was a Delta flight. And, of course, a first-class seat for Castellanos.
“Thank you, Mr. Ilitch,” Castellanos said late Tuesday night, referring to the Tigers owner after Castellanos’ plane had landed and he had arrived at Comerica Park in the sixth inning of the Tigers’ 12-0 trouncing of the Indians that pumped life into Detroit’s playoff dreams.
Castellanos, who is the team’s regular third baseman when he’s not on the disabled list, was sent to the plate by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning Tuesday with the Tigers leading, 9-0.
Not since a pitch broke his hand during an Aug. 6 game against the Mets had Castellanos seen a big-league pitch. He had been rehabbing at the Tigers’ minor-league headquarters in Lakeland, Fla., as he prepped for a reunion.
Leading off the Tigers’ half of the eighth, he doubled over the bag at third and a team already on top, 9-0, was on its way to three more runs.
“Once I saw the score, I thought for sure he (Ausmus) would give me an at-bat,” said Castellanos, who before he hit the DL was batting .286, with 18 home runs and an .831 OPS.
“I got to the ballpark in the sixth inning and made it down right before Upton hit his home run,” Castellanos said, referring to Justin Upton’s three-run bomb in the seventh. “I was getting undressed and dressed as fast as I could.”
Castellanos, 24, is a right-handed batter whose crunch was missed more than the Tigers could perhaps acknowledge during his seven-week shelving.
Tigers third basemen hit zero home runs during his hiatus. They drove in 13 runs. Meanwhile, a man in his third big-league season had to rehab and wait.
“It sucks, man, but you just gotta realize there’s nothing you can do,” Castellanos said. “I’ve had that roller-coaster of guilt. You blame yourself. You get mad at the situation: Why right now?
“The game’s unpredictable. So you just gotta ride the wave and do the best you can.”
And maybe help win one or more of those five games the Tigers hope to pocket along with a playoff ticket.
“It could come down to the last game,” Castellanos said, thinking ahead to a regular-season series wrap-up against the Braves. “We could clinch this thing in Atlanta, you know. If everything goes right.”
From the Tigers’ perspective, things have a better chance of going right when Castellanos is on hand. Ausmus all but said Tuesday that his regular third baseman would be back in the lineup tonight against the Indians.
Still at it
In the seventh inning Tuesday, Justin Upton got a hanging breaking pitch from Indians reliever Adam Plutko, and there wasn’t much doubt where it was headed.
To a distant, distant land.
Of course, it needed to first come down. And with the hang-time Upton put on his 29th homer of the year, it took longer than usual to locate Upton’s missile.
“Must have gotten some reverse spin on it,” Upton said later as he analyzed his latest homer’s flight path.
Upton has 16 home runs in his last 33 games and has been one of big-league baseball’s heaviest lifters since he found his swing and timing in August.
Tigers starting pitchers are, of course, lined up for the Indians series. Justin Verlander started Tuesday, Michael Fulmer goes today, and Fulmer’s fellow rookie, Daniel Norris, works Thursday’s series finale.
But, ah, those final three regular-season games against the Braves at Atlanta?
Nothing has been decided. In the first two games, anyway.
“We’ve got three choices for two spots,” Ausmus said.
Verlander, of course, would pitch Sunday’s finale — if a playoff ticket is still within mathematical reach for the Tigers.
That leaves Matt Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, and Buck Farmer as Friday-Saturday options.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” said Ausmus, who knows the wild-card standings will in large part determine strategies.
The Tigers will play before a standing-room only crowd Sunday at Atlanta.
And isn’t that decent of Braves fans to be so revved for a game featuring the visitors from Detroit?
Well, it’s not exactly the Tigers that have made tickets exceptionally scarce and exceptionally expensive (on certain markets).
It’s the final game at Turner Field ahead of next year’s relocation to a new park in Atlanta.
Taking pity on those who weren’t able to secure earlier seats — or afford the “separate market” prices — the Braves offered $20 standing-room tickets Tuesday for designated spots where throngs can at least say they were physically present for the farewell.
Did it again
Miguel Cabrera had a two-run double in the first inning Tuesday, and followed up an inning later with a gigantic home run into the shrubbery in center field as the Tigers took a 5-0 lead.
The five RBIs gave Cabrera 102 RBIs for the year, the eighth season he has had at least 100 RBIs for the Tigers. It ties him with Harry Heilmann as the only player in Tigers history to have eight 100-RBI seasons.