DETROIT (AP) – On a day of dandy Detroit debuts, Alex Gonzalez helped Brad Ausmus start his tenure as Tigers manager with a win.
Gonzalez lined an RBI single off Greg Holland in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Tigers a 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Monday in Ausmus’ first game since replacing Jim Leyland. Victor Martinez homered for Detroit, and Justin Verlander was sharp aside from a three-run fourth inning that wasn’t all his fault.
“There’s two things that could have spoiled opening day for me,” Ausmus said. “One, if we lost. And two, if the sun wasn’t out. Because for me opening day, the sun is out, fans are having fun, they’re eating their popcorn, drinking their beer. The energy is higher.”
Kansas City lost its sixth straight opener.
Ausmus was upstaged a bit by another newcomer on a bright, pleasant day in downtown Detroit.
Gonzalez was acquired by the Tigers in late March following an injury to shortstop Jose Iglesias. Detroit is just hoping he can fill in competently, and Gonzalez did not impress at first. His error in the fourth helped the Royals score an extra run, but he made up for that with a tying triple in the seventh.
Gonzalez then singled with men on first and third in the ninth.
“I’ve played on a lot of opening days – I don’t even remember all of them – but this one was special,” Gonzalez said. “I was looking for a pitch that I could elevate, and I got one. I rounded first and all I saw was the whole team coming at me.”
Joe Nathan – another new face on Detroit’s roster – pitched a scoreless ninth. Nathan (1-0) signed with the Tigers to become their closer, but he’ll have to wait a bit longer for a save opportunity.
Holland didn’t have a save chance either after converting 47 of 50 last year. Instead, the right-hander came into a difficult situation in the ninth and couldn’t get out of it. Wade Davis (0-1) yielded a one-out walk to Alex Avila and a single to Nick Castellanos before Holland allowed the single to Gonzalez.
“I get paid to get people out, and I didn’t do it today,” Holland said. “We’re not here to fight and compete. We’re here to win.”
Detroit’s Tyler Collins made his major league debut as a pinch runner for Avila – and ended up scoring the winning run.
Salvador Perez had four hits for Kansas City.
Although there were still a few patches of snow in the Detroit area Monday morning, the game was played under a sunny sky with temperatures in the 50s. With its recently re-sodded field, Comerica Park looked sharp.
But the Tigers, coming off three straight AL Central titles, were sloppy at first.
Right fielder Torii Hunter dropped a routine flyball in the second, and although Verlander pitched out of that jam, he couldn’t escape the fourth. Salvador Perez tied it at 1 with a one-out RBI double off Verlander, and Lorenzo Cain slapped an RBI single through the hole into left field to put Kansas City ahead. After a two-out walk, Gonzalez bobbled Norichika Aoki’s slow grounder for an error that loaded the bases.
Verlander then walked Omar Infante, forcing in Kansas City’s third run of the inning.
Verlander had surgery in January after injuring his groin, but he pitched 20 scoreless innings during spring training. He allowed three runs – two earned – and six hits in six innings Monday, walking three and striking out two.
That was enough for a no-decision. Verlander was making his seventh straight start on opening day, and he’s only 1-1 in those games.
“I never seem to find a win on opening day, but the bullpen shut them down and we got one anyway. That’s all that matters,” Verlander said. “Every opening day is special, but this one meant a little more, because I had to really work and grind to get here for this one after the surgery.”
With Kansas City ahead 3-1 in the seventh, Austin Jackson hit a one-out triple and Avila drew a walk. Aaron Crow replaced starter James Shields and struck out Castellanos, but the third strike was a wild pitch that allowed Jackson to score. Gonzalez followed with a triple to the gap in left-center.