It had all the pomp and circumstance that an Opening Day in Detroit should have, but it seemed to have more meaning, more excitement and an epic pitching match-up. The afternoon was clear and sunny with the temperatures in the mid-50's, a far cry from the snow flurries that are the norm during Detroit opening days.
Things felt different, but no one could put a finger on it. The Tigers were coming off their first Central Division crown ever, they lost Victor Martinez but gained the instant hometown hero Prince Fielder. Detroit also added relievers in Collin Balester and Octavio Dotel. The Tigers were now the ones with the targets on their backs - the hunted and no longer the hunter, something that is entirely new.
It is accepted as all but inevitable that the Tigers will win the Central Division this season - this team just won the division for the first time ever last season and now they are the ones who will walk away with it? They are the sexy pick to win the World Series, this is not what Detroit is used to. Detroit is used to being underestimated and under appreciated.
With the national media in attendance the Tigers kicked off one of the most anticipated seasons in club history against the Boston Red Sox. Detroit sent Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander to the mound to duel with Red Sox ace Jon Lester. The game was everything a baseball fan could want.
Verlander looked to be in mid-season form giving the Tigers eight scoreless innings while allowing just two hits and walked just one. Lester matched Verlander inning for inning until his seventh when he allowed a double to left by Jhonny Peralta and another double to left by Alex Avila that gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
The Tigers would add another run in the eighth inning when Austin Jackson hit a lead off triple to right center. When Brennan Boesch was unable to get him home the Red Sox intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera to try to get Fielder to ground into a double play. Fortunately for Detroit Fielder was able to shorten his swing and launch a sacrifice fly to center field. With Jackson crossing the plate the Tigers boasted a 2-0 lead going into the ninth with their closer, Jose Valverde, who was 49-for-49 last season.
Things seemed sewed up for the Tigers, it was going to be a good win. Holding the Red Sox scoreless on opening day, Verlander going eight innings and getting a rare April win and Valverde continuing his saves streak. But this is why they play the games.
Valverde came on and seemed to struggled from the moment he got on top of the rubber. Dustin Pedroia connected with a lead off double to deep center before Adrian Gonzalez singled him over to third. Valverde was then able to get David Ortiz to fly out to center but Pedroia tagged and scored, cutting the Tigers lead to 2-1. Kevin Youkilis then struck out but a stolen base put the tying run in scoring position with two outs for the Red Sox. Ryan Sweeney then tripled to deep right and as the ball caromed off the wall, the Red Sox tied the game at two apiece.
The first blown save for Valverde since Sept. 2010, the lead gone, Verlander's win gone it seemed that things were going to collapse for the Tigers on opening day and crush all the optimism that came with it. But Detroit flexed the muscles that have had analysts glowing about them all winter.
Detroit's ninth inning rally came from the two guys who combined for the first run - Peralta singled to right and was pushed over to second on an Avila single to left. With two runners on and no outs the Red Sox turned to A. Aceves and Danny Worth came in as a pinch runner for Peralta. The bases were loaded when a breaking pitch caught the heel of Ramon Santiago.
With the bases loaded Austin Jackson stepped to the plate, he struggled last season with strikeouts and is looking for a bounce back offensive year this season. He took a couple pitches, didn't try to force anything, and was able to lace a single down the left field line that scored Worth.
That was it, that was the feeling that everyone had. This team is going to win, it might not be pretty but this team is good and it won't go down without a fight. These Tigers embody the city they are from and a walk off opening day win is just what should have happened.
If this is how opening day was, 2012 is going to be one heck of a year for the Bombers on Brush Street.