Justin Verlander needed 105 pitches to get through eight innings of shutout work in which he allowed two measly hits and struck out seven batters opposite one walk. Any other start during the season and Verlander probably finishes what he started with up to another 15-20 pitches and the Tigers win without issue.
Instead, with the Tigers up 2-0, Jim Leyland went to their oft-reliable closer Jose Valverde, who hadn’t blown a save since September 2, 2010. Although he has struggled in certain outings since then, he had nailed down 54 consecutive save opportunities (including the playoffs), so it shouldn’t be a controversial move.
Unfortunately, there would be no dancing Big Potato in this one, as he allowed a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia, a single to Adrian Gonzalez and, after getting the next two outs, a game-tying triple to Ryan Sweeney. Some of the luck that Valverde used up in a perfect season last year returned to help him get the final out when Cody Ross hit a screamer right at Jhonny Peralta for the final out, giving the Tigers a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the ninth inning.
And that’s exactly what the Tigers would do — for a fitting start, not only to this season, but to this blog!
After Ryan Raburn flew out to start the inning, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila singled to set up runners on first and second for Ramon Santiago. Red Sox skipper Bobby Valentine turned to his closer, Alfredo Aceves, but Aceves didn’t fare much better than the pitcher he beat out for the job, Mark Melancon. Aceves proceeded to hit Santiago in the foot on a breaking ball, loading the bases for Austin Jackson, who already had two hits and another pair of good at bats in the game. Sure enough, Jackson turned on a 2-1 change-up and singled past Nick Punto at third for the walkoff and subsequent Opening Day celebration!
Walkoff Box Score Bullets:
- Austin Jackson was 3-for-5, but probably deserves a quality AB designation by each box. In his two outs, he worked the count to 3-2 both times and hit the ball on a line on one. Most importantly for some, he did not strike out.
- Jhonny Peralta was a perfect 3-for-3 in the game with a walk. Danny Worth scored his run in the 9th. Peralta made all of his plays in the field, but Prince Fielder needed to pick two of his throws from the dirt.
- Miguel Cabrera was 0-for-1 with three walks, including an intentional walk with a $214 million hitter waiting behind him. Cabrera saw two plays in the field and made both rather interesting. The first was this [via World of Isaac]:
His second was immediately after the one above and he olé’d it for his first error of what will likely be plenty this season. It ultimately didn’t cost the Tigers any runs and Cabrera was +2 in terms of getting on base vs. allowing base runners due to his defensive deficiency.
- Prince Fielder had a seeing-eye single in his first at bat as a Tiger and then knocked in his first RBI in the 8th inning, which proved to be a huge Aflac run. He also had the aforementioned couple picks at first.
- Alex Avila was 2-for-4 and had the first RBI of the game on a double to left. The one controversial move in the game was when Leyland had Avila square to move over runners on 1st and 2nd in the bottom of the fifth inning. Avila failed to get a bunt down on the first two pitches and wound up striking out. The Tigers ultimately stranded those runners.
- The Tigers were 0-for-11 with runners on base before Avila’s RBI double in the 7th inning.
- I thought Jon Lester was pretty filthy himself today. He made the Tigers look pretty miserable on a handful of swings. His final line was 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K.
- Yes, Jose Valverde gets the W, while JV gets a ND. Nobody feels worse about JV not getting a W than Jose Valverde. What’s more important is the Tigers are 1-0.