Toronto — Playoff thoughts haven’t been part of Tigers life for some weeks now as September delivers a string of mop-up games.
But you can always jam a moment or two of drama into the act.
The Tigers were as much Broadway entertainers as baseball players Friday at Rogers Centre as they beat the Blue Jays, 5-4, thanks to some improbable theater from their infield, and an encore evening by right-fielder Nicholas Castellanos.
Castellanos was making his first outfield start in four years for the Tigers and celebrated dually. He neatly handled two fly-ball chances and, for his game-changing stunt, Castellanos crushed a Marcus Stroman fastball beyond the center-field wall for a third-inning grand slam that early on gave the Tigers a 4-0 lead.
Then, as drums rolled, the defensive epic.
With runners at second and first and none out in the sixth, reliever Drew VerHagen threw a sinker that Kevin Pillar whacked over the bag at third.
Jeimer Candelario, who has all but displaced Castellanos at third, snared the ball on a backhand, stepped on third, whipped a sidearm throw to Ian Kinser at second, with Kinsler pivoting and dishing a lightning-bolt relay to Efren Navarro at first.
Pillar was out by a shoelace and the Tigers had their first triple play since they did it against the Mariners on Aug. 1, 2001.
“He actually didn’t follow directions,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who doesn’t mind a droll set-up. “I told him to throw it and get a double play.”
Yes — stand-up comedy was part of Friday night’s performing arts. There was also irony as well as symmetry in Friday’s two big plays.
Candelario, the man who has replaced Castellanos because of Castellanos’ challenges at third, started a triple play that wouldn’t have been doable had a 23-year-old rookie and his strong arm not been planted at third.
“You know, when Kinsler tell me to be ready for the triple play, I was prepared, man,” said Candelario who confirmed that Kinsler indeed “screamed” at him, in all seriousness, to be ready for a defensive play the Tigers hadn’t executed in 16 years.
“Around the horn,” Kinsler said afterward, with a sly smile. “I just wanted to remind him to stay heads-up.
“It couldn’t have worked anymore perfectly.”
Castellanos, the man who worked third base the past four seasons for the Tigers, found himself in new territory Friday.
And he looked like anything but a newbie.
In the first, with two out, he took a couple of smooth steps backward and grabbed Pillar’s liner. In the third, he breezily hauled in Justin Smoak’s high fly to right.
“Just run and catch it,” said Castellanos, who said he felt at ease from the outset Friday.
Earlier in the third, after the Tigers had loaded the bases on Dixon Machado’s double, Kinsler’s single, and a walk to Candelario, Castellanos unloaded on a first-pitch, 94-mph fastball from Stroman.
It headed for the outer regions of center field, even if Pillar didn’t at first see the ball in Friday’s twilight. He last caught sight of it as it sailed beyond the fence to the right of the 400-foot mark.
“I took a good swing,” said Castellanos, who in his first at-bat ripped a liner Pillar caught at the warning track. “We needed it.”
It was all enough to save the Tigers on an evening when their makeshift rotation survived to win a road game against one of the American League East’s annual Tigers thorns.
Buck Farmer pitched five innings, allowed only a single earned run, and departed after the first three Jays batters got on base to start Toronto’s half of the sixth.
It probably shouldn’t have been as sticky for Farmer. He struck out leadoff man Jose Bautista on a pitch in the dirt that got past James McCann for a passed ball, allowing Bautista to land safely at first.
Smoak followed with another single, and then Kendrys Morales blooped a single to center that Mikie Mahtook couldn’t snag as Bautista scored.
On came VerHagen. And there was a motive: VerHagen throws sinkers that tend to turn into ground balls.
Pillar obliged and, with Candelario’s choreography clicking, the Tigers had their triple play.
Detroit’s only other run came in the seventh when Kinsler homered over the left-field fence. Kinsler’s homer, his 16th of 2017, gave the Tigers a 5-2 lead.
An inning later, it was 5-4. Alex Wilson arrived for the eighth and was socked for homers by Richard Urena, and then by Bautista.
But he ended matters minus any further injury, which brought on Shane Greene for the wrap.
Greene walked a batter with two out, but struck out Miguel Montero to seal a game that, given the Tigers’ Friday stagecraft, might as well have been played at nearby Pantages Theater.