DETROIT — The eighth-inning pinch hit RBI double wasn’t what stuck in Mikie Mahtook’s mind the most: it was the ninth-inning, when Mitch Moreland doubled to right, with Dustin Pedroia headed to third base with two outs.
“Nick (Castellanos) was in the shift, so I was playing back,” Mahtook said. “Moreland pulls it, and I think Nick’s going to get it, but obviously at that point, I’m running toward it. I was just thinking, ‘Get it and get it in.’ It doesn’t have to be a great throw, just make sure the ball’s coming in to the infield to stop him.”
But while that play that kept the team in the lead, the redeeming point in the game rested with Mahtook’s double. Without his hit the Tigers don’t tie the game and James McCann doesn’t walk to load the bases. JaCoby Jones doesn’t walk a run home to put the Tigers ahead.
The moment was not lost on Mahtook, who is in just his third season playing at the big league level for any amount of time. But even before the game, when asked about being surrounded by such a veteran clubhouse compared to the Rays’ young environment, he said the change didn’t really phase him. Different, yes. Difficult to adjust, no.
Still, his heart was admittedly racing when he was told he’d be hitting in the eighth, in such a key moment of the game. Facing a left-handed pitcher “is your job” he said of the situation, but that didn’t diminish the weight of the moment.
“You like to say you can clear the mechanism, right?” Mahtook said. “But it’s a little easier said than done, and obviously you feel the energy. But that type of energy helps the players. It helps you rise up to the occasion, or get a little bit extra velocity on the mound — whatever it is, that’s a good thing.
“So you want to feel it, you want to enjoy it, you want to suck it up, but you don’t want to let it consume you, consume your mind. So, I was able to take the positives out of it, and stay calm enough to hit a slider.”
The game-tying double gave the Tigers what they needed to hold on for a win and a 2-1 record to start the year. Detroit has now won nine consecutive home openers, and they’re just the fifth team in Major League Baseball history to win nine or more in a row.
Even with an eighth-inning collapse at the hands of Francisco Rodriguez and the bullpen, Detroit found a way to win. Mahtook, handed a big opportunity to make an impression on the team and with fans, ran with it and then some in the ninth. It’s early in the season, but on Friday, he more than did his job.