The rebuilt and re-imagined Detroit Tigers fell behind early, but rode the bat of shortstop Alex Gonzalez to a thrilling 4-3 come-from-behind walk-off win over the Kansas City Royals.
Picked up at the end of spring training for his defense, Gonzalez won the game with his bat. His seventh inning triple knotted the game at 3-all. His one-out single in the bottom of the ninth drove home pinch-runner Tyler Collins, giving the Tigers a walk-off victory.
Royals starter James Shields pitched well, out dueling Justin Verlander for most of the afternoon. Shields left the game with two on and one out in the seventh, holding a two-run lead. But reliever Aaron Crow allowed both inherited runners to score, sticking Sheilds with a no-decision. Over 6 1/3 innings, Shields allowed three runs on five hits, walking one and striking out three. Wade Davis ended up with the loss, charged with one run in an 1 1/3 innings of work. But it was closer Greg Holland who severed up the game winner to Gonzalez.
The Royals did all their damage against Verlander in the fourth inning, scoring three runs, greatly helped by three walks and a pair of Detroit errors. Bailed out by the Tigers' two-run rally in the seventh, Verlander earned a no-decision, allowing two earned runs, three total, on six hits over six full innings.
A question mark entering the season, for one game the Tigers' bullpen was brilliant. Evan Reed and Al Alburquerque each tossed a scoreless inning of relief. Closer Joe Nathan, the Tigers' prize free agent signing, pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory.
The Tigers' offense was led by Gonzales, who ended his first game as a Tiger 2-4 with a pair of RBIs. Victor Martinez gave the Tigers' their first home run of the season, a solo shot in second. Alex Avila chipped in by reaching base three times and scoring a run.
The Tigers could not do a thing with the Royals' Salvador Perez, who led the opposition with four hits, a run scored and an RBI. Lorenzo Cain added a run scoring single, Omar Infate drove in the Royals' final run with an RBI walk.
For much of the game, it was deja vu all over again. The rebuilt 2014 Tigers showed many of the same flaws of the 2013 version. Verlander battled control issues in the middle innings, leading to an early exit due to an elevated pitch count. There were several displays of iffy defense, the Tigers charged with two errors, while committing a handful of mental errors which didn't show up in the box score.
But we also saw the differences in this year's team. The Tigers showed off their speed with a pair of triples and a pinch-runner who was speedy enough to go from first-to-third on a single to center, setting up the walk off win. Their rebuilt bullpen passed their first test with flying colors, keeping the Royals off the scoreboard, giving the Tigers' offense a chance at a late game comeback. Manager Brad Ausmus didn't leave his best reliever in the bullpen, using Joe Nathan in the ninth inning of a tie game. Things are different!
It's only one game. Ausmus made sure to remind the media it's a long season and there would be bumps in the road. But you can't ask for more than a walk-off win on a beautiful Opening Day against one of your divisional rivals. Let's hope it bodes great things for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Verlander kicked off his 2014 season by pounding the strike zone, easily retiring Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante to start the game. But Eric Hosmer sent a liner to center on which Austin Jackson took a looping route, the ball glancing off the tip of his glove on a lunging attempt at a shoestring catch. Jackson's refusal to dive gave Hosmer a two-base hit, giving Billy Butler, the Joker to Verlander's Batman, an early RBI opportunity.
But Country Breakfast came up empty, weakly bouncing to Ian Kinsler to end the threat.
Top of two, Verlander gave up a pair of long drives to left, Rajai Davis grabbing Alex Gordon's lead off drive on the warning track. But Salvador Perez's shot landed at the base of the wall in front of the flagpole in left-center for a one-out standup double.
Mike Moustakas followed with a can of corn to right-center. With Jackson looking ready to camp under it, Torii Hunter looked all of his 39 years when he cut in front of his center-fielder and and outright dropped what should have been the second out. Luckily for the Tigers, Perez had held at second believing (as did we all) the fly would be caught.
Two on and one out and given an RBI opportunity, Lorenzo Cain sent a dribbler toward third. Nick Castellanos charged, making a nice play to nail Cain at first for the second out. The runners having advanced to second and third, Verlander skillfully pitched out a trouble by inducing number nine hitter Alcides Escobar to pop up to Alex Avila, ending the threat.
The Tigers having dodged a pair of early bullets, the sold-out Comerica Park crowd was quiet. That quickly changed with one swing of an aging DH's bat.
Batting cleanup (as he did quite successfully in 2011) Victor Martinez led off the bottom half of the second. He put a charge in crowd by smoking James Shields' 1-2 breaking ball on a line over the right-field wall, the Tigers taking a 1-0 advantage. Martinez's no-doubt shot gave the Tigers their first hit and run of the 2014 season (MLB.com video)
And we get our first "I see ya, Victor" from Rod Allen. Welcome back, baseball.— Melissa Heyboer (@MelissaHeyboer) March 31, 2014
Shields would also allow a single to Avila, but would keep the Tigers from extending their lead. After two full innings, the Tigers were up 1-0 on the team expected to be their main competition for the AL Central crown.
Aoki was badly fooled by an off speed pitch leading off the third, Verlander kicking off a 1-2-3 inning by recording his first strike out of the season. Shields matched Verlander, quickly shutting down the Tigers in order in bottom half of the inning. Not helping was Kinsler and Hunter both flying out, hacking away on the first pitch.
Top of four, a one-out walk would come back to bite Verlander, allowing the Royals to knot the game at 1-all. Gordon worked a full count before drawing a base on balls. He would score all the way from first when Perez looped a double into the left-field corner. It looked as if there would be a play at the plate, but to Alex Gonzalez rightfully decided to hold on to Rajai Davis' rather leisurely relay.
Perez took third on Moustakas' swinging bunt, and would score when Cain's ground ball in the hole got past a diving Gonzalez for an RBI single. Escobar kept the rally alive by drawing the second walk of the frame. Gonzalez extended the inning even further, not making any fans in the process, when he bobbled Aoki's grounder to short. The E-6 loaded the bases for the ex-pat, Infante.
Verlander continued battling his control against the ex-Tiger second baseman. Verlander lost the battle, giving Infante a free RBI when he issued his third base on balls of the inning, the Royals taking a 3-1 lead. The bases remained loaded for Hosmer, who popped out to third after taking a pair of huge swings looking for the grand slam.
The inning was over, but the Royals had sent nine to the plate while scoring three runs, two earned, on two hits, three walks and an error. The Royals were also patient, forcing Verlander's pitch count to rocket to 74 in a 33 pitch inning.
Bottom of four, Miguel Cabrera started to earn his $292 million. He showed he's fully recovered from his groin issues by legging out a line drive double to left. Martinez almost brought the game back to even, but his drive down the right field line was a few feet foul. He would ultimately have a productive out, moving Cabrera to third with a ground ball.
The Royals infield was back and ready to concede the run, but Jackson's tough game continued. He struck out looking, watching Shields' borderline 3-2 fastball go by for the second out of the inning. A frustrating fourth came to an end when Avila swung through Sheilds' full count off speed pitch, ending the inning. For those keeping track, it was the first *TTBDNS of the season. *(Tigers threaten but do not score)
Verlander could contain Country Breakfast for only so long, Butler singling to lead off the fifth. Castellanos showed his inexperience when he had trouble judging how far away he was from the stands, allowing Gordon's foul pop to drop harmlessly. Verlander took matters into his own hands, turning Gordon's hard hit comebacker into a 1-6-3 double play.
Good thing he did, as Perez continued to rake. Verlander. The Royals' All-Star catcher kept the inning alive with a line single to center. Moustakas ended the inning by lining out to Jackson, but Verlander was nearing the end of his afternoon with a pitch count at 91 through five. Meaning we were assured of seeing the Tigers' questionably rebuilt bullpen sooner than later.
Who’s excited to see the Tigers bullpen? Fav for "me!" RT for "oh hellllll no" … that should get us 25,000 RTs, right?— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) March 31, 2014
Castellanos opened the bottom of the fifth with a single to left, but was a little too anxious, trying to make something happen that just wasn't there. The rookie showed his inexperience for the second time in less than an inning when he attempted to run on Gordon's arm. He was an easy out at second, Gordon's on-target throw nipping any shot at a rally in the bud.
As Evan Reed warmed up in the bullpen, Verlander's pitch count passed the 100 mark in a 1-2-3 sixth. With Jim Leyland in the dugout, you would expect to see the infamous "Handshake of Doom." With Brad Ausmus at the helm, there was no handshake, making it harder to tell what he's thinking.
Top of seven, Reed did get the call, taking over from Verlander. The Tigers' ace ended his day after six innings and 104 pitches, allowing three runs, two earned, on six hits, walking three, striking out just two.
Reed set the side down in order, getting help from some excellent defense. Both Kinsler and Gonzalez flashed their glove leather, each making diving stops to rob the Royals of base hits. Kinsler's was a true web gem, laying out to nab Hosmer's one-hop smash, quickly rising to his feet to make the throw to first.
One down in the bottom half of the seventh, Jackson showed why he could be a good fit batting fifth. He flashed his gap power with a fly ball off the wall in deepest left-center, cruising into third with a standup triple. A tiring Shields proceeded to walk Avila, forcing Ned Yost to go to his pen.Which isn't a bad option, one of the Royals' biggest strengths in 2013 was their relief pitching.
But it wasn't a strength in the seventh, even when facing the bottom of the Tigers' batting order.
Right-hander Aaron Crow was called on to face Castellanos. Crow got the strikeout, but wild pitched a run home in the process. Avila took second as Jackson crossed the plate to pull the Tigers within a run at 3-2.
To this point, Gonzalez had not impressed, having gone 0-2 with an error. But that changed when his liner to left-center found the gap, Avila easily scoring as Gonzalez got on his horse, hustling to third with a head-first slide. The huge two-out RBI triple made it an all new game at 3-all (MLB.com video).
Hey Gonzalez all is forgiven!— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) March 31, 2014
The ever unpredictable Al Alburquerque got the call for the eighth. Today his slider was working, allowing just a Perez single (understandable, as no one could get him out today) while holding the Royals scoreless.
Right-hander Wade Davis came on in the bottom of the eighth to face the Tigers' top of the order. Pitching carefully with two down, Davis walked Cabrera, preferring to face Martinez. The unintentional intentional walk worked, Martinez flying out to end the eighth.
Top of the ninth, we saw firsthand Ausmus will handle his bullpen differently than his predecessor. Closer Joe Nathan made his first appearance as a Tiger, taking the mound in a tie game. It's not like it was knotted in the bottom of the ninth, but you have to wonder if we would have seen Nathan in a tie game if Leyland were still in charge.
Nathan was lights out, quickly setting the Royals down in order.
We could get used to this Joe Nathan guy— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) March 31, 2014
Bottom of nine, Yost had his closer Greg Holland warming up earlier, but ultimately went with Davis for a second inning. One out, Avila reached base for the third time, working a walk. He was pulled for pinch-runner Tyler Collins, making his big league debut.
One on and one down, Castellanos shook off his earlier mental errors, showing why the Tigers think so much of him by giving the Tigers a shot at a walk-off win. With a nice piece of hitting, the rookie lined Davis' 2-2 breaking ball to right-center for a single, Collins racing to third.
The winning run just 90 feet away, Yost quickly made the call for Holland to face the Tigers' veteran pickup, Gonzalez. The 37-year-old infielder made Dave Dombrowski look like a genius.
With the Royals' infield pulled in, Gonzalez gave the Tigers a walk-off victory by lining a single over short. Collins danced home with the winning run as the Tigers rushed out of the dugout to celebrate an Opening Day come-from-behind victory!
1 win down, 161 to go.— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) March 31, 2014
Tomorrow is a day off, but the Tigers and Royals go back at it Wednesday afternoon in the second of a three game series. Reigning Cy Young Max Scherzer will face lefty Jason Vargas. First pitch will be 1:08 P.M.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
The most terrifying thing at Opening Day couldn't be found on the field. But outside Comerica Park? Hide your children!!!
!!!!! Max Scherzer Giant Bobblehead !!!!! http://t.co/qBwV7jG5vd pic.twitter.com/R8FLo7NmPR— Tim Ryan (@TheSportsHernia) March 31, 2014
Catherine's view from the press box was glorious! She'll be at Comerica covering the Tigers for Bless You Boys all season long.
The singing of the national anthem. pic.twitter.com/hEdTspPwzo— Catherine Slonksnis (@CSlonksnis) March 31, 2014
Austin Jackson refusing to lay out for Eric Hosmer's first inning double led to the inevitable reaction...
Does Jackson dive? Let’s check! pic.twitter.com/ULa69FC3Ot— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) March 31, 2014
Torii Hunter's second inning error was not a thing of beauty.
no harm no foul, Torii! (but don’t do that again, thanks)— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) March 31, 2014
In case you were wondering...
Tyler Collins will now wear #18 for the #Tigers.— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) March 31, 2014
Alex Gonzalez caught the wrath of Tigers fans in the fourth. Many believed he should have thrown home on Salvador Perez's RBI double, then compounded matters by committing an error on a ball which could have ended the inning. Not an auspicious debut for the Tigers' stopgap solution at shortstop. Opinions would change a few innings later, obviously.
Opening Day is a holiday in Detroit, but it also means very casual fans who don't normally attend games make their annual appearance. This tweet sums up the crowd on Opening Day.
I was just asked when the seventh inning stretch is— Grape (@spacemnkymafia) March 31, 2014
Be they bandwagon types or die-hards, Tigers fans deserve kudos for coming out in force today!
Tigers have the second highest crowd in attendance history today and largest Opening Day Crowd at Comerica Park. 45,068 in attendance.— Catherine Slonksnis (@CSlonksnis) March 31, 2014
Salvador Perez, Tiger Killer? Apparently so. Perez was unstoppable, going 4-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI on the afternoon.
Meanwhile in New York City, the Mets' new setup man was making a very good impression...
Jose Valverde just struck out Bryce Harper. #cantpredictbaseball— TigerChick (@stoofner) March 31, 2014
Via FSD: The Tigers are now 54-59-1 in season openers.
Victor Martinez: Went yard once and just missed a second by a few feet.
Alex Avila: Excellent game for the Tigers' catcher. Reached base three times on a single and two walks, scored a run, all while playing his normal good defense.
Alex Gonzalez: Got off to a rough start with an early error, but came came through in a big, big way late. Gonzalez drove home the tying run in the seventh with a huge triple and knocked in the walk-off game winner with a clutch single.
The bullpen: Reed, Alburquerque and Nathan combined to hold the Royals scoreless on one hit over three innings.
Nick Castellanos: Showed he's a rookie with a pair of mental errors and stuck out with a runner in scoring position. But it's a great sign for the future when he shrugged off his mistakes, making a difference in the late innings. Castellanos made some nice plays defensively at third while adding two hits. The most important being his ninth inning single which setup Gonzalez's heroics.
Not going to bother. WALK-OFF!
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