DETROIT — The Tigers came home for their Comerica Park opener after dropping two of three to the Twins in Minnesota and all anybody wanted to talk about was pitching, the lack thereof, especially in the bullpen, where this closer-by-committee stuff wasn’t, isn’t and never shall be the stuff of champions.
These Tigers weren’t exactly roaring at the plate either. They had 24 hits in Minnesota and 21 of them were singles. They were sort of Punch-and-Judy, minus the punch.
“I’ll pretty much guarantee you this team is going to hit,” manager Jim Leyland said before Friday’s game.
He was right. Detroit got two home runs in as many at-bats from Prince Fielder and a towering blast by Alex Avila that translated into an 8-3 win over the New York Yankees.
Starter Doug Fister battled through five innings without his best stuff and lefty Drew Smyly was tremendous over the last four innings — 12 batters up, 12 batters down. His first career save was also the Tigers’ first four-inning save in nine years.
These Yankees are decimated by injuries and, frankly, it’s a lineup that should scare nobody. So this Detroit victory wasn’t really about arms. It was about bats.
The only question when it was over, as articulated by a Detroit scribe, was whether Avila’s shot, about two-thirds of the way up in the right-field bleachers, had invaded Princeville or whether Fielder’s homers had landed in Avilaville.
“If that’s the competition, I’ll lose every time,” Avila said, laughing.
Ah, but maybe not on this day. The Detroit catcher, as they say, got all of a fastball from New York reliever Shawn Kelley to put the Tigers up 6-3 in the bottom of the sixth.
“He hit two, I hit one,” Avila said, again conceding the home-run derby to his big, brawny teammate.
Fielder probably deserved it because when he came to bat in the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers were at a crossroads, maybe facing a crisis of confidence.
In the top of the inning, the Yankees had taken a 3-2 lead on a run-scoring wild pitch and a two-run homer by Kevin Youkilis to deep left-center off Fister.
The Tigers had been there, done that.
“The games in Minnesota, we got ahead early and then couldn’t put any more runs up,” Avila said. “So, after Youkilis hit his, I wouldn’t say we were down but we’re feeling like, OK, now we’re gonna have to grind it out. Leave it to Prince to get us going.”
With runners on the corners and lefty Boone Logan out of the bullpen especially to face Fielder, the Tigers’ slugger picked on the second pitch, a fastball up in his wheelhouse, and chased it out of the park in about two seconds. OK, maybe three.
Two innings later, with Miguel Cabrera on first after a walk, Kelley served up a breaking ball that had no snap and Fielder launched it deep into the seats in right. Deeper than Avila’s? Flip a coin.
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ newest star appreciated both of Fielder’s homers from the dugout and didn’t waste much time starting an MVP campaign for Detroit’s first baseman.
“Last season he was trying to feel out a different league, which isn’t easy, and he still batted .313 and hit 30 [homers] and drove in 100,” right-fielder Torri Hunter, who slapped two singles, said of Fielder. “Now he’s been around the block. Watch him this year. I mean, you saw it today.
“Prince for MVP. Who wouldn’t like those odds? That’s about the easiest prediction ever.”
Fielder was 2-for-14 before jacking the two homers. So this MVP campaign of Hunter’s is at the grassroots level. But everything has to start sometime and somewhere, sort of like the Tigers’ bats did on Friday at Comerica.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.