The Detroit Tigers have been playing baseball since the American League was founded in 1901. That’s 116 season openers from which to select some of the greatest performances. Here are five of the best in Tigers’ history.
April 7, 1986: Tigers 6, Boston Red Sox 5
Only four Tigers in history have gone 4-for-4 on Opening Day. In this opener, Kirk Gibson hit two-run home runs, one in the fifth inning and another in the seventh. Both homers put the Tigers ahead in the game. Gibby had five RBI, while Dave Collins, Darnell Coles, and Larry Herndon chipped in with two hits apiece. Jack Morris gave up five runs on twelve hits, including four home runs, but hung on for the victory.
April 3, 1984: Tigers 8, Minnesota Twins 1
The Tigers won their first nine games as part of an all time best 35- 5 start, and it all began with this 8- 1 drubbing of the Twins at the Metrodome. Darrell Evans drove in three runs, Lance Parrish drove in a pair, and Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, and Howard Johnson chipped in two hits apiece to spark the Tigers. Jack Morris pitched seven innings, while Aurelio Lopez and Willie Hernandez closed out the victory. “Opening day” usually refers to the home opener in Detroit, but like this season, the 1984 Tigers started on the road. The team laid waste to the rest of the league, starting 16- 1 and winning 104 games and a World Series title.
April 4, 2005: Tigers 11, Kansas City Royals 2
The Tigers had rebounded from their worst season in history in 2003, improving their record by 29 games and seemingly on the rise, so Manager Alan Trammell’s team entered the season with expectations of continued improvement. The 2005 season didn’t end well for the Tigers, or for Trammell, but Dmitri Young got things off to an exciting start with a three home run performance that set the town abuzz. Young collected four hits and five RBI in all. Brandon Inge also homered for Detroit, and Jeremy Bonderman threw seven frames of one run ball to get the victory.
April 10, 1968: Red Sox 7, Tigers 3
Maybe you had to live through the civil unrest and the riots in Detroit in 1967 to truly appreciate the full impact of the 1968 baseball season on the City of Detroit. The city had been torn apart with violence, burning buildings and troops on the streets. The Red Sox had pulled out the pennant on the last day of the 1967 season over the Tigers, and opening day in 1968 was postponed amid fears of more violence after the assassination of Martin Luther King. It was appropriate that Boston was in town to kick off the 1968 season. Former Boston pitcher Earl Wilson hit a home run for the Tigers, his first of ten homers that season. Although they lost the opener, the Tigers won the next nine games en route to 103 victories and a World Series championship.
April 25, 1901: Tigers 14, Milwaukee Brewers 13
The Detroit Tigers’ opened the American league’s first season with one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. Trailing 13- 4 entering the ninth inning, the Tigers scored ten runs in the bottom of the ninth at Bennett Park- later named Navin Field, Briggs Stadium and Tiger stadium— to steal a victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Frank “Pop” Dillion drove in the tying and winning runs with a ground rule double. Detroit finished their first season with a record of 72- 63, in third place among the eight AL teams. The Tigers won their first five games, each on their last at bat of the game. They would score in double digits twelve times, allowing at least ten runs 18 times that season, in the “dead ball” era. Those Brewers would become the St Louis Browns the following season, and eventually the Baltimore Orioles. The modern day Brewers began as the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969.
Only four of the eight cities that began play in the American League in 1901 still have their franchises, and only two of those use the same team name: the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. Seasons come and seasons go, but each opening day brings hope that the boys of summer will bring joy to the City that craves a winner. Play ball!