Tigers 4, Twins 2: Bullpen shuts down late Twins rally

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Verlander pitched five strong innings for the victory, Prince Fielder led both the offense and defense, Phil Coke nailed down the final two outs for the save.

Justin Verlander stuck out seven in five innings, leading the Detroit Tigers to an Opening Day victory over the Minnesota Twins, 4-2. Phil Coke picked up where the 2012 post season ended, earning his first save of the young season.

Vance Worley took the loss for the Twins, allowing three run and eight hits in six innings.

Torii Hunter, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante all chipped in two hits each for the victorious Tigers. Joe Mauer paced the Twins with a single and double.

As for the game itself, the Tigers hit the nearly frozen turf at Target Field running.

Literally.

Austin Jackson led off the game by ripping a line single to right on a 3-2 count. With Jackson running, Torii Hunter then pulled off what many a Tigers number two hitter couldn't in 2012, getting enough of his bat on the ball to dribble a single past Twins' 2B Brian Dozier, who was covering the bag. Jackson strolled all the way to 3rd on Hunter's single.

Jackson scored when Miguel Cabrera beat out what appeared was going to be a 6-4-3-double play, helped by Hunter's hard slide into 2nd. Cabrera took 2nd on Worley's wild pitch, jogging home on Prince Fielder's opposite field seeing eye double just inside the 3rd base bag.

Just like that, the Tigers led 2-0.

After Verlander pitched past a Cabrera fielding error in a scoreless bottom of the 1st, the Tigers continued to run the bases like Whitey Herzog's Cardinals.

Jhonny Peralta led off the 2nd inning with a single. Showing off his weight loss, Peralta stole 2nd as Alex Avila struck out swinging. Omar Infante smoked a belt-high Worley fastball to left for an RBI single, Peralta crossing the plate to give Verlander a 3-0 lead.

After another scoreless Verlander inning, Hunter continued to do his damnedest to make Tigers fans forget Brennan Boesch, leading off the 3rd by legging out a double for his second hit of the game. He advanced to 3rd when Pedro Florimon out and out robbed Cabrera of a single by going deep into the hole at short and throwing him out by a step. Hunter was left stranded when Fielder bounced out to short against a drawn in infield and and Victor Martinez was thrown out by a step after a swinging bunt.

Twins ended Verlander's no-hit bid in the bottom of the 3rd on Joe Mauer's two out, two base hit into the left field corner. Verlander would have none of this, ending a Twinkies' uprising before it started by striking out Josh Willingham on a 95 MPH fastball which painted the black for his fourth K of the afternoon.

The Tigers loaded the bases for Hunter in the 4th. Andy Dirks led off by necking a walk, Omar Infante singled with two out and Florimon booted Jackson's ground ball on what should have been the 3rd out, loading the bases. Worley pitched out of the jam on Hunter's come-backer, but the Tigers still led 3-0.

The Twins threatened for the first time against Verlander in the bottom of the 4th. Leading off, Justin Morneau stuck his bat out, slapping a ground ball down the left field line. Dirks had a legit shot at throwing out Morneau, but the throw was off line.

No worries. No worries whatsoever.

Verlander blew a fastball past Ryan Doumit for the first out.

Trevor Plouffe flied out to deep center for out number two, Morneau advancing to 3rd.

Parmelee bounced out 6-3 to end the threat, Verlander holding onto a 3-0 lead.

Cake.

The Tigers went down 1-2-3 for the first time all afternoon in the 5th.

A rising pitch count and the extreme cold in the Great White North known as Minnesota meant Verlander would likely hit the showers after the bottom of the inning Verlander allowed a single and walk, but struck out Willingham with a runner in scoring position to end both his inning and afternoon.

It would be up to the bullpen to get the final 12 outs.

Bottom of the 6th, Drew Smyly entered the game with a three run lead and middle of the Twins order due up. Two up, two down. Morneau flew out, Doumit struck out swinging. But Plouffe looped a double to left, the Twins' third extra base hit of the day.

Then things got dicey. Parmelee followed by working a base on balls, Dozier taking four straight pitches to load the bases. The Twins pinch hit former Tigers prospect Wilkin Ramirez (15 games in 2009) for Florimon.

The right-hand hitting Ramirez helped Smyly out considerably by arriving at the plate swinging from the heels, immediately falling behind 0-2. But Smyly's 2-2 breaking ball bounced 3 feet in front of Avila, the wild pitch caroming off Avila (who never had a chance) into the dugout, allowing the first Twins run to score. The Tigers lead was now 3-1.

Ramirez hit Smyly's 3-2 pitch hard on the ground toward short. What should have been an easy out was made hard when Peralta's throw was in the dirt. He was bailed out by Fielder, making a nice stab of the in-between hop. Inning thankfully over.

Top of the 7th brought another former Tiger sighting. Right-handed reliever Casey Fien (11 games in 2009-10) came out of the pen for the Twins. Of course, he struck out the side (Jackson, Hunter, Cabrera).

Smyly remained in the game in the bottom of the inning. He didn't get out of the 7th. Smyly allowed one out singles to Mauer and Willingham, then loaded the bases for the second consecutive inning by walking Morneau.

Smyly would not get a chance to pitch out of a second jam. Jim Leyland called on Al Alburquerque to get out of trouble. Instead, the switch hitting Doumit drilled an RBI single to left, Mauer scoring, the bases still loaded.

Alburquerque then did what he does best, strike batters out with nasty breaking balls. Plouffe struck out swinging. Parmalee worked a 3-2 count, but could not hold off on Alburquerque's wicked slider in the dirt. He struck out swinging to end the threat, the Tigers now clinging to a 3-2 lead.

The Tigers would generate their own threat in the 8th, loading the bases against lefty Brian Duensing. Fielder singled, Victor Martinez walked, Leyland had Infante sacrifice them into scoring position. Playing the percentages, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire intentionally walked Peralta, loading the bases in order to get a lefty-lefty match up with Avila.

The stratergery worked. Avila was caught looking for the second out.

With Infante due up, Gardenhire played the percentages again, bringing in righty Josh Roenick. Roenick proceeded to pull a Smyly, sending a wild pitch through Maurer's 5-hole. Fielder rumbled home without a throw for an insurance run and 4-2 Tigers lead. Infante would pop up to end the threat. But the damage was done.

Joaquin Benoit pitched the 8th in set-up duty. He walked Hicks (who avoided a Golden Sombrero) with two out, but got the always dangerous Mauer for the third out, helped by Dirks' nice running catch in the left field corner.

Top of the 9th, The Tigers went down in order.

Time for closer bingo!

Benoit started the bottom of the 9th, remaining in the game to face the right -hand hitting Willingham. First pitch hacking, Willingham hit what would have been a home run in a stove pipe. But on a baseball diamond, it was a pop up to Avila for the first out.

On came the Tigers' closer of choice in the 2012 post season, Phil Coke.

Coke made the left-hand hitting Morneau look absolutely silly, striking him out on three pitches.

Batting right-handed, the switch-hitting Doumit was the Twins last shot at keeping the game alive. Despite his scary splits against right-hand hitters, Coke remained in the game.

The bullpen by committee ultimately worked to perfection. Doumit's lazy liner landed in Hunter's glove for the final out, Coke nailing down save number one of 2013.

A long, cold day ends in Tigers victory, as the bullpen by committee experiment was a rousing success..for one game, anyway.

SEASON FIRSTS:

First pitch: 4:17 PM EST

First base hit: Austin Jackson, 1st inning single.

First run: Austin Jackson, 1st inning.

First RBI: Miguel Cabrera, 1st inning.

First extra base hit: Prince Fielder, 1st inning.

First error: Miguel Cabrera, 1st inning.

First strikeout: Victor Martinez, 1st inning.

First stolen base: Jhonny Peralta (!!!), 2nd base, 2nd inning.

First foul tip off Alex Avila's body: Bottom of the 2nd, inner left "thigh." (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

First "Tigers threaten, but do not score": 3rd inning, Hunter reached 3rd base with one out, then stranded.

First "Austin Jackson outruns a deep fly ball": Brian Dozier, 5th inning.

First "Twins hit" aka fluke hit: Pedro Florimon's broken bat looper, 5th inning.

First run allowed: Drew Smyly, 6th inning.

First win: Justin Verlander.

First save: Phil Coke.

BULLETS:

The Tigers' 1st inning included a single, a hit and run, run scoring on a ground out and a seeing eye double. I wasn't watching the Tigers, I swear it was your typical National League game.

When do I consider the season to have actually started? When Alex Avila gets drilled by a foul tip. The Tigers' catcher is a baseball magnet. He was hit in various parts of the body at least three times in the 2nd inning.

Actually, the season officially started when this appeared on Twitter:

Kudos to FSD for adding a pitch count tracker to the Fox Box.

Verlander hit the 70 pitch mark in the 4th inning. Pitch count hawks and bullpen worriers immediately took note. Apparently, so did Jim Leyland.

Twins rookie Aaron Hicks had an extremely rude introduction to the big leauges, courtesy of Verlander. The Tigers' ace struck out the 23 year old center fielder swinging in the 1st, 3rd and 5th innings.

When Smyly entered the game in the 6th, my first thought was "Four inning save!" My next thought was "THROW STRIKES!"

Ramirez made baseball history during his at bat. According to Sports Reference (of Baseball-Reference fame) Ramirez edged out Matt Thornton of the White Sox for the (unofficial) 5 millionth player appearance in an MLB game.

Casey Fien, Tiger Killer. 17 pitches, 13 strikes, three strikeouts.

An FSD closeup of Infante after one of his base hits showed just how brutally cold it was in Minneapolis. As he stood on the 1st base bag, Infante was bent over, grimacing, shaking his hands in pain.

For all the people (mostly in the media) complaining about the weather and the Twins not playing in a dome...the last thing I EVER want to see is another damn dome in Minnesota. Dancing on the grave of the Metrodome is on my bucket list.

Hunter made quite an impression in his first game as a Tiger. He played a huge part in the early rallies with base hits (including a prefect hit and run single), played flawless defense and allowed fans to forget last season's train wreck in right field.

After the game, Leyland admitted the 1st inning hit and run was actually a straight steal of 2nd by Jackson, it was just a nice piece of hitting by Hunter.

The Tigers now have a shot at going wire-to-wire in the AL Central. It could happen

THREE ROARS:

Justin Verlander - 5 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K: Verlander didn't have his best stuff, taking him 91 pitches to get through five innings.Though it being colder than George Steinbrenner's heart in Minnesota and it being Opening Day may have had something to do with it. But that only means he's better than 90% of major league pitchers instead of 99%.

Prince Fielder - 2-4, 1 R, RBI: Had a 1st inning RBI and started an 8th rally with a single. The big man made an impact on defense as well, pulling Perlata's throw out of the dirt with two out and the bases loaded in the 6th.

Bullpen by committee: Alburquerque, Benoit and Coke combined for 2 2/3 innings, allowing just one hit, a walk striking out four.

THREE HISSES:

Drew Smyly - 1.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K: Smyly just didn't have it today.

Miguel Cabrera: Rough start for the reigning MVP, hitless in five at bats. But to his credit, Cabrera did earn an RBI thanks to hustling down the line to beat out a double play ball.

Alex Avila: Hitless in four at bats, though his body was hit plenty..

WORLD SERIES GAME FOUR PLAYER OF THE GAME:

The BYB community gave Max Scherzer 66% of the vote to Delmon Young's 29%.

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