Beiker Graterol might have drawn the toughest assignment for a major-league debut in Tigers history.
After Bryce Florie went on the disabled list, the Tigers turned to Graterol, a 24-year-old right-hander from Venezuela, to start against the defending World Series champion New York Yankees in the home opener at Yankee Stadium in New York.
It was April 9, 1999, and history filled the stadium. They raised the banner to commemorate the 1998 World Series title. Hall-of-Fame catcher Yogi Berra threw out the first ball, and there was a pre-game moment of silence for one of the greatest Yankees of them all – Joe DiMaggio, who died a month earlier. Basketball great Michael Jordan was there, as was former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, And, of course, Mayor Rudy Guiliani was on hand.
And then, to make matters worse, star pitcher David Cone was on the mound for the Yankees, and the weather was terrible. The game began in a steady rain, and it was chilly. Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch had his throwing hand inside his uniform to keep it dry and warm in the first inning.
Welcome to the major leagues, Beiker Graterol. In the Tigers’ pregame telecast, analyst and former Tigers great Kirk Gibson called it “a reverse lock.”
“You wouldn’t think Beiker Graterol would line up too well against David Cone,” Gibson said. “The good thing is the Yankees haven’t seen him, either, so maybe Beiker Graterol will have an Opening Day in Yankee Stadium that he will never forget.”
Play-by-play man Josh Lewin said, “The mismatch really does sort of jump out at you. It’s kind of a Julia Roberts-Lyle Lovitt thing.”
After all the festivities and the Tigers failing to score in the top of the first inning, Graterol, who threw a four-seam fastball, a splitter and a slider, came out throwing strikes with catcher Brad Ausmus behind the plate. Knoblauch, the lead-off man, took two called strikes before he flied out to center. Graterol then retired future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter on a grounder to first. After walking Paul O’Neill, Graterol struck out Bernie Williams, the American League batting champion in 1998.
That was as good as it got. Tino Martinez hit a solo homer and Scott Brosius belted a two-run shot in the second inning, and Chili Davis hit a grand slam in the third. Graterol retired the Yankees in order in the fourth, but his day was done. The last batter he faced was Jeter, who flied out to right in that at-bat and was 0-for-2 with a walk against Graterol, who was left with a 15.75 ERA and a 2.000 WHIP in four innings.
Through the 2019 season, Graterol remained the only Tigers pitcher to appear in just one game for the franchise and allow three home runs. Two other pitchers, Gene Host in 1956 and Kevin Whalen in 2014, each gave up two home runs in their only game for the Tigers.
Graterol returned to the Toledo Mud Hens of the Class AAA International League and went 3-9 with a 5.83 ERA. The following season, Graterol pitched in the Mexican League. Fittingly, he played for the Mexico City Tigres.
“D” Tales: Beiker Graterol was the first pitcher to make his major-league debut as a starting pitcher against the Yankees in the home opener at Yankee Stadium since 1967. That was a lot different than the one in 1999.
That pitcher was Billy Rohr of the Boston Red Sox, and he took a no-hit bid into the ninth inning. After he retired Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone, Elston Howard ruined the no-hit bid with a single to right. Rohr finished with a one-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory. It was the first of three career wins for Rohr, who finished his major-league career with a 3-3 record and a 5.64 ERA. It also was the only shutout of his career.
Howard, the American League MVP in 1963, was traded to the Red Sox four months later.