Castro ends Tigers' HR drought, rewarded with belt

June 14th, 2022

DETROIT -- Somewhere in the bowels of Comerica Park, in storage with other clubhouse items, was a Randy “Macho Man” Savage replica wrestling belt. Former Tigers reliever Derek Holland had bought it last year to hand out to the player of the game each time they won, a way to build clubhouse morale on a young team trying to go places.

In a perfect world, it might have been at the bottom of a storage tub with that replica Rally Goose that players put in the dugout a few years ago, or Gum Time memorabilia from the days of Nate Robertson. But wherever it was, someone found it and brought it to Joe Jiménez, who put it in an otherwise empty locker next to his.

It could go to the player or pitcher of the game, he said before batting practice Monday afternoon. Then again …

“Maybe for home runs,” the reliever said.

As Willi Castro paraded down the Tigers’ dugout with the belt and some Macho Man-style glasses Monday night, having hit the Tigers’ first home run in a week and a half, it was clear which idea won out. They’d tried everything else to jump-start their offense, so they might as well find a way to celebrate home runs like other clubs have done.

It didn’t help the Tigers break their struggles. Instead, Monday’s 9-5 loss felt like a demonstration of Murphy’s Law. On a night when the Tigers’ offense awakened from its slumber to score five runs for just the ninth time this season, Detroit pitching surrendered nine runs for just the fourth time this year.

Still, if the Tigers are to turn this season around, they need more offensive outbursts like this, especially via the long ball.

“Some really good at-bats,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “I was really happy with the offense today. We pieced together some really big at-bats. Willi kick-started the game with the homer. They just had more at-bats and bigger swings.”

Castro’s drive to right off Lance Lynn’s first Major League pitch of this season was not only the first leadoff home run of Castro’s career, it was the Tigers’ first home run of any sort since June 2. Detroit’s eight-game homerless streak was its longest since a 10-game stretch from the end of the 1989 season into 1990. The Tigers hadn’t suffered such a long single-season stretch since 1972, the year Detroit won the AL East with an 86-team led by Norm Cash’s 22 home runs and 61 RBIs.

While Castro’s homer jump-started the Tigers’ attack, what followed was a barrage of smaller hits. Back-to-back singles following the homer set up a Javier Báez sacrifice fly for a two-run inning. Kody Clemens’ long-awaited first Major League hit, a ground-ball single through the right side, led off the second inning and set up another run on Harold Castro’s broken-bat single with two outs.

Clemens, 0-for-17 entering the game, raised his arms at first base like a prize fighter. He could well have represented the Tigers’ offense in general.

“I got back after the inning and [Spencer Torkelson] goes, ‘Don’t you just feel 100 pounds lighter?” Clemens said.

Detroit’s frustration had reached a point where Tucker Barnhart burned his bat in his fire pit at home Sunday night, something he had done previously during his time with the Reds as a ritual to spark the offense.

“Tucker actually sent me that picture last night and said, ‘All is better,’” Hinch said. “He thinks that solved it. I told him I fully support any and all burning of demons and issues with the bats.”

Seven of Detroit’s first 11 batters churned out hits against Lynn, whose 10 hits allowed marked his highest total ever against the Tigers. He still survived with three runs over 4 1/3 innings. Austin Meadows’ double on Lynn’s 88th and final pitch was Detroit’s only extra-base hit aside from Willi Castro’s homer.

That wasn’t enough to keep up with the White Sox attack, led by a pair of two-run homers from longtime divisional nemesis José Abreu. With Drew Hutchison set to return from Triple-A Toledo to start Tuesday in what is expected to be a bullpen game, the Tigers’ offense needs to show up again to give the team a chance.

Still, all signs of life from this offense are welcome, even if it involves parades in the dugout with wrestling belts.

“Whatever it takes,” Hinch said.