Tigers treat sellout crowd on Whitaker's night to a rousing win over the Rays
Detroit — They sold out Comerica Park for Lou-lapalooza Saturday night.
An announced crowd of 40,101 came to celebrate Sweet Lou Whitaker — his No. 1 now retired and on the bricks alongside Alan Trammell’s No. 3 for all eternity. And they stayed to enjoy a gritty, if not rare, Tigers’ victory.
Spearheaded by the Castro boys — Harold and Willi — the Tigers steamrolled the Tampa Bay Rays 9-1, much to the delight of what was the largest non-Opening Day crowd in exactly six years (since Aug. 6, 2016, a game against the Mets).
"Congrats to Lou Whitaker," manager AJ Hinch said. "What a tremendous tribute to him by the organization. It was so awesome to meet him. He spent some time in our clubhouse, meeting the players.
"It was just cool coming out honoring him with the ceremony and then following up with one of our best games of the year and in front of one of the best crowds we've had."
The Castros combined for five hits (three by Harold), four runs and two RBIs and they were the first to crack Rays' left ace Shane McClanahan.
"We went against him in Tampa," Willi said. "We went out there with the mentality that he was going to be aggressive with the fastball and we executed pretty good."
In the fourth inning, the Castros teamed up to record a rare 3-9 putout. Jose Siri hit a foul pop up near the short wall down the right field line. Harold Castro chased it and got his glove on it. Willi Castro, hustling from his right-field spot, was there to clean up the rebound after the ball popped out of Harold’s glove.
"We don't practice that," Hinch said with a wry smile.
Said Willi Castro: "Just reaction. I saw it was coming out of his glove and I just throw my glove there. I was ready. I think if he wasn't going to catch it, I think I would have caught that ball."
They teamed up again to put the Tigers ahead in the fifth. With one out, Willi Castro doubled. It was just the second hit and first extra-base hit allowed by McClanahan.
Harold Castro followed with a single to left to tie the score 1-1.
Then he hustled around to score on a double into the left-field corner by Victor Reyes. Third-base coach Ramon Santiago, gauging the arm of left fielder David Peralta and knowing the Rays would have to make two throws to the plate, waved Harold Castro home.
"We joked that he sort of sent him and he sort of didn't," Hinch said. "He got caught in between and Harold couldn't stop. The first send, the aggressive send, was the right send."
The throw from shortstop Taylor Walls short-hopped catcher Christian Bethancourt, who couldn’t apply the tag.
The Tigers broke it open with a five-run seventh, again with the Castros in the middle of the fray. Both had doubles, as did Javier Báez, who knocked in two runs. Jonathan Schoop (sacrifice fly) and Miguel Cabrera (single) also knocked in runs.
"We've been up and down, but we have a good team," Willi Castro said. "It's tough but it's part of baseball. We've lost a lot but we have the team to win games. We just have to keep competing."
Speaking of competing …
Before the seventh-inning uprising, this was a nailbiting pitcher’s duel between McClanahan, a Cy Young candidate, and Tigers rookie Garrett Hill, making his sixth big-league start.
The jury is still way out on Hill. There are times he’s able to command his pitches on the edges of the strike zone, that his stuff looks legit — the low-90s four-seamer with good ride through the zone, the 80-mph change-up and slider that move in opposite directions and the loopy knuckle-curve.
There are other times when the command gets spotty and he has to make predictable pitches in hitters’ counts and his stuff looks more pedestrian.
What seems clear at this point, though, is that his compete level is elite.
Hill worked out of self-created jams in the first, fourth and fifth innings and left the game with a runner on and two outs in the sixth with a 2-1 lead.
"I told him on the mound, that's the best we've seen him have up here, in demeanor and stuff," Hinch said. "When you put those two things together with some pretty good execution, that's pretty good."
He worked out of a bases-loaded, one out jam in the first, getting Siri to fly out and striking out Luke Raley.
"That was a huge swing in momentum," Hill said. "Just make good pitches and trusting what (catcher Eric) Haase was putting down. The outcome was in our favor."
Center fielder Riley Greene likely saved a run by aggressively charging a single by David Peralta, which forced the Rays to stop Ji-Man Choi at third base. Choi didn't try to score on a fly ball by Siri.
Hill threw 93 pitches, gave up six hits and walked three and at one point went 3-0 on five of six batters, but the Chang homer was the only blemish on his ledger in 5.2 innings.
"It's a big boost," Hill said. "Kind of starting to put together things that I've struggled with up here and to see positive results is huge."
To the point about his stuff playing at this level — he got 15 misses on 39 swings with 15 called strikes. He got six whiffs on 16 swings with his four-seamer.
"I think it's just being free and easy throwing the ball and not trying to place it," Hill said. "Not trying to be so perfect. Just let my stuff play like I know it can."
Things got a little out of hand in the eighth. The bullpen-weary Rays brought third baseman Chang in to pitch, throwing 40-mph sliders and 35-mph curves. Schoop hit one of the curveballs into the seats in left, his eighth of the season.
On the whole, Lou-lapalooza was success.
"That was a lot of fun," Hill said. "That's by far the biggest crowd I've ever threw in front of."
Willi Castro agreed: "Really cool. Really special. Watching that video of when Lou played, I think that inspires all of us. It was really awesome. To think that he played 19 years with (Alan) Trammell, him at second base and Trammell at shortstop — that's something you don't see very often."