It’s easy to freak out on opening day. A win sets up a season full of rainbows and smiles, but a loss spells doom for all eternity. At least it can seem that way when your winning percentage reads either 1.000 or 0.000 at the day’s end.
Detroit jumped out to a 2-0 lead right away in the top of the first inning on two singles by Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter, a wild pitch, and a Prince Fielder double. A third run was added in the top of the second after Jhonny Peralta singled, stole a base, and then scored on an Omar Infante base hit. The Tigers wouldn’t relinquish the lead, but things would get very, very interesting before all was said and done.
Justin Verlander pitched five innings scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, two walks, and three hits allowed, but the plan was apparently to keep him under 100 pitches for the day — and he was at 91 — so the Jim Leyland went to the bullpen to start the sixth inning.
Drew Smyly answered the bell with a 3-0 lead and appeared poised to coast through the inning. He got two quick outs — a flyout and a strikeout — but then hit a wall hard. A double, two walks, and a wild pitch scored a run. Smyly induced a goundout off the bat of Wilkin Ramirez which resulted in a bang-bang play at first but the call went the Tigers’ way and the inning was over.
Smyly returned for the seventh and immediately ran into more trouble. He got Aaron Hicks to ground out to begin the inning, but two singles and a walk quickly re-loaded the bases. Enough was enough and Leyland mercifully went to the bullpen to call on Al Alburquerque.
Alburquerque gave up a single to Ryan Doumit on a slider that hung up in the zone and the Twins pulled within one run at 3-2. Al Al came through though, getting Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee to strike out swinging to end the inning.
The Tigers added an insurance run in the top of the eighth after Fielder scored from third on a wild pitch with the bases loaded.
Joaquin Benoit was called into the game for the eighth inning and pitched a relatively clean inning. He allowed one batter to reach on a two-out walk, but the threat would advance no further. Phil Coke was warming in the pen, but Benoit came back out for the first batter of the ninth. He got the first batter of the ninth, Josh Willingham (a right hander), to pop out and was lifted for Coke.
- Coke definitely seems like he’ll get the first shot — or the bulk of the first shots — to close, but Leyland did show a willingness to play some of the matchups. He brought Benoit back out in the ninth to face a right-handed hitter, and then went to Coke for the lefty Morneau.
- Torii Hunter certainly looks good in a Tigers’ uniform. He went 2-5 (including a double) and, while he wasn’t forced to make any tough plays in the outfield, looked decidedly more appealing in right field than Brennan Boesch.
- Miguel Cabrera went 0-5. He should probably be cut.
- One could blame Jim Leyland for leaving Drew Smyly in the game for too long, but I’ll give him a passing grade for his first game with this bullpen. He’s stated his affinity and comfort level with defined roles, so it’s going to take some time for him to adjust to a mix-and-match bullpen. He did well with Alburquerque, Benoit, and Coke. The awkwardness with the Smyly situation today was more of a middle relief issue, not really one with the back end / “closer” situation.
- Verlander would have normally gone much deeper in this game, but I’m guessing they didn’t want to push it with the combination of early season stamina and cold weather.
- Jhonny Peralta stole a base. This deserves its own bullet point.