Opening Day in Detroit has become somewhat of a holiday for Tigers fans, complete with hours of tailgating, food and drink—lots of drink—and raucous fun. Oh, yeah, and some Tigers baseball, too.
Today’s home opener featured the 2016 Rookie of the Year winner—no, not Gary Sanchez—Michael Fulmer. Fulmer would be taking on a vaunted Boston Red Sox lineup that was recently bitten by the flu bug. Bitten so badly, in fact, one of their players had to be placed on the 10-day disabled list!
More after the jump!
Fulmer battled adrenaline and some control issues—the cold weather made his changeup a no-go for much of the game—to give the Tigers 6 solid innings of scoreless baseball. He racked up 4 strikeouts and allowed a walk and a hit batsman. The young righty featured a high octane fastball, touching the upper 90s, and a sharp, hard slider that often touched 90 to 91mph. The changeup wasn’t much of a weapon, and Fulmer threw just 13 of them.
On the offensive side of things, the Tigers faced 30-year-old knuckleballer Steven Wright. The team jumped on him early, scoring a single run in the first on a Victor Martinez sac fly, and didn’t get much more off Wright until the sixth inning. Nicholas Castellanos tripled to left-center with one out in the inning and after one of those new-fangled no-pitch IBBs to Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez cashed Casty in with a sharp RBI single against the shift.
James McCann added to the Tigers’ lead with a two-run homerun off the right-hander Wright in the seventh, and the Tigers were sitting in the catbird seat on Opening Day.
However, some dark clouds were about to come rolling in and no, I’m not talking about the weather, which behaved (for the most part). I’m talking about the bullpen.
Actually, Justin Wilson pitched pretty well, throwing a scoreless seventh and collecting a strikeout. It’s everyone who came in after him that had their share of problems. Bruce Rondon had a devil of a time commanding his fastball; basically the only pitch he had working (for relative values of “working”) was a lifeless slider. Predictably, Rondon quickly got into hot water. Next up was Alex Wilson, who was able to mitigate some of Rondon’s wildness, but was lifted with two outs in the eighth for closer Francisco Rodriguez.
K-Rod, who’d faced six four-out save opportunities and nailed down five of them last year, failed to nail it down in the eighth today. He gave up an opposite field blast to the damnable Pablo Sandoval. On an 0-2 pitch. The Red Sox, who’d started the eighth down 4-0 and were down 4-2 at the time, had suddenly jumped out to a 5-4 lead. Devastation!
It wasn’t looking good in the bottom of the eighth either, with both Castellanos and Cabrera striking out swinging against Heath Embree of the Red Sox. Victor Martinez battled for a two-out walk, however, and was lifted for a pinch runner. Justin Upton followed VMart up with his own two-out walk, and suddenly the Tigers were in business!
Tyler Collins’ spot was due up with two men on and two out, and the Red Sox were turning to the bullpen for rookie lefty Robby Scott. Brad Ausmus predictably sent up right-handed pinch hitter Mikie Mahtook, and the fanbase let out a collective groan. This guy? He had a .195 batting average last year! We’re doomed!
Scott Mah-took Mikie to a 1-2 count and then the freshly minted Tiger connected with the biggest hit of the day, lining a double to right field. Romine scored the tying run and Upton was held at third. Now the entire fanbase wondered: could K-Rod vulture up a blown save and a win?
The Red Sox brought in hard-throwing righty Joe Kelly to face James McCann, but Kelly lost sight of the strikezone and walked the Tigers catcher on five pitches to load the bases. Rookie JaCoby Jones would step up to the plate with the bases loaded and an erratic reliever on the mound.
Jones, like the batters before him, showed a good eye and had a disciplined at bat. It would be very easy for a rookie in his first ever MLB home opener to get too amped up and help a struggling pitcher out. Jones worked Kelly for a seven-pitch walk to force home the go-ahead run.
After a long layoff, K-Rod came back on the mound to try and sop up his own (perhaps undeserved) victory, and sop it up he did. The veteran closer got into some more trouble in the ninth, giving up a single to Dustin Pedroia and a double to Mitch Moreland (which would have scored the tying run had Mikie Mahtook not hustled after the ball and gotten it to the cut-off man quickly enough). Chris Young—no, not the soft-tossing Royals pitcher—was all that was standing between the Tigers and a win in the home opener.
A second blown lead was thankfully not in the cards as K-Rod summoned his last remaining scrap of strength and induced Young to pop up harmlessly to Miguel Cabrera. When the foul pop landed in Cabrera’s waiting glove, the Tigers and their fans let out a collective sigh of relief.
Utter disaster averted!
• This was the Tigers’ ninth straight victory on Opening Day. They haven’t lost a home opener since 2008, when they started 0-7.
• Michael Fulmer was a little amped up. He touched 98 several times with his fastball, and 90-91 with his slider.
• James McCann, as noted earlier, hit a two-run homer off a righty. Last year, McCann hit just three homeruns off righties in 224 ABs.
• Mikie Mahtook pinch hit for lefty Tyler Collins in the eighth and drilled a clutch game-tying double. For his career, Mahtook hits .272/.322/.529/.851 against southpaws (only .190/.232/.297/.530 against right-handers).
• On the 0-2 pitch to Sandoval, K-Rod said he was trying to waste one and it just caught too much plate.
• The team honored Mike Ilitch with a touching video tribute.
• Might we get an “OH JACOBY!” from Rod at some point this season?
• Most importantly, according to basically everyone who went to the game today, James McCann walked up to Ginuwine’s “Pony.”