Castellanos, Gonzalez make amends for early miscues

Gonzalez drives home game-winner in Tigers' opener
AP Wire
Mar 31, 2014

Nick Castellanos grew up in the Miami area and was in all of fifth grade back in 2003, when Alex Gonzalez was helping lead the Marlins to a World Series championship.

On Monday afternoon, they were teammates - bumping bodies in a wild celebration, both having helped the Tigers stun the Royals on Opening Day at Comerica Park.

And both - Castellanos, the kid, and Gonzalez, the veteran - made their critical contributions after some rough going earlier in the ballgame.

"It's awesome," Castellanos said afterward in a raucous Tigers clubhouse. "To win a home opener now with him, it's a childhood dream."

Said Gonzalez: "Something I'll never forget."

No kidding.

Gonzalez, the 37-year-old veteran acquired just last week from the Orioles be the Tigers fill-in shortstop, had two monster hits in the 4-3 victory - off two outstanding Royals relievers, no less.

In the seventh inning, he drilled a two-out RBI triple - his first triple since 2011 - off Aaron Crow to tie the game at 3. Then, in the ninth, facing stud closer Greg Holland, Gonzalez laced a single to left past a drawn-in infield to make the Tigers winners in Brad Ausmus' debut.

"Fifteen years in the big leagues for a reason," Victor Martinez said, smiling. "He's a good hitter, and today, he showed it."

Castellanos doesn't even have one year in the big leagues yet.

But he still helped set up the winning hit with a one-out single to right that put runners at the corners for Gonzalez.

That was Castellanos' second hit of the game, but the first ended on a down note.

In the fifth, he had a leadoff single against James Shields, but challenged left fielder Alex Gordon's cannon arm, and was out at second base by a wide margin.

Still, even with the Tigers trailing at the time, he said, "I wouldn't take it back." It is, after all, Ausmus' goal to make the Tigers an aggressive bunch on the bases, consequences, sometimes, be damned.

Castellanos' next at-bat was a rougher one. With runners at the corners and one out, the rookie looked jumpy and uneasy - and struck out on three Crow pitches, the last one so bad, it came to rest near the backstop, at least scoring a run.

Good hitters don't sulk, though. They make adjustments for the next time they get a chance.

"The ones that don't adjust never stay in the big leagues," Torii Hunter said. "He made some adjustments."

It was Hunter, actually, who went up to Castellanos in the dugout for a pick-him-up speech after that seventh-inning strikeout, and told him he was going to win the game.

Castellanos didn't, but he sure helped - thanks to a little alone time. Before his at-bat in the ninth, he headed to the batting cages and just watched 15 pitches. He didn't swing at one. He just wanted to see the ball.

"I just wanted to look at pitches," said Castellanos, 22. "That set me up well for my next at-bat."

In the ninth inning, Alex Avila had worked a one-out walk, bringing Castellanos up against Wade Davis.

And like he did so often in spring training, Castellanos battled and battled before eventually fighting for a single to right, sending pinch-runner Tyler Collins - making his major-league debut - around to third, where he was about to score the winner.

Thanks to Gonzalez, whose day started, let's say, not ideally.

He drew the first round of boos from Tigers fans when in the fourth inning, when he bobbled a groundball that could've got Justin Verlander out of the inning with just two runs allowed. Verlander then walked the next batter to force in a third run. (Castellanos, too, had his defensive adventures, on a foul popup in particular; he's new to the dimensions in Detroit, though. That happens.) Earlier in the inning, it appeared Gonzalez could've gunned down a Royals runner at home, but he held onto the relay throw instead.

It got better for Gonzalez, though. In the seventh inning, he made a nice diving stop to his left to take a hit away from Billy Butler, and in the eighth inning with a runner in scoring position, Gonzalez slickly fielded a bad-hop grounder to get out Lorenzo Cain to end the Royals threat.

Then, we all know what happened next.

"I want to show the people I can play shortstop," said Gonzalez, who only played three games there last year with the Brewers. "I made a mistake, but I keep my head up."

Except, that is, when his celebrating Tigers teammates came to mob him.

Only then did he keep his head down.

 

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