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Published: Thursday, 4/5/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

OPENING DAY FEEL

Tigers beat Mud Hens at packed Fifth Third Field

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The Detroit Tigers, with manager Jim Leyland, right, stand during the national anthem before Wednesday's game at Fifth Third Field. The Detroit Tigers, with manager Jim Leyland, right, stand during the national anthem before Wednesday's game at Fifth Third Field.
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It was a victory for both sides Wednesday at Fifth Third Field as the Detroit Tigers defeated the Toledo Mud Hens 8-3 in an exhibition game.

The Mud Hens lost the game but won because they were able to squeeze a standing-room-only crowd of 12,000 fans into the ballpark.

Many of those fans arrived hours before the noon start just to see Detroit stars like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder take batting practice.

"People have been talking about this for a long time, and I don't think it disappointed," Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said.

"The atmosphere was awesome, and you couldn't have asked for much better weather-wise."

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While the crowd was not a Fifth Third Field record -- there have been nine crowds of 12,250 or more in the park's 10 seasons -- it was a loud crowd that cheered heartily for both sides.

"It felt like opening day," said the Hens' Ryan Strieby, who had an RBI double in the fifth. "With 12,000 fans there definitely was some juice out there.

"It felt like a regular-season game."

Detroit's Jhonny Peralta hits a single to score a run in the second inning Wednesday against the Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field. Detroit's Jhonny Peralta hits a single to score a run in the second inning Wednesday against the Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field.
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The game itself was essentially decided in the third inning, when the Tigers sent 10 batters to the plate and scored five times.

Cabrera, Delmon Young, and Alex Avila all had RBI singles in the inning while Ryan Raburn cracked a two-run triple.

By the fifth inning the Tiger starters were gone, and soon after that the players wearing the "Tigers" uniforms were actually members of the West Michigan Whitecaps, Detroit's Lo-A team in the Midwest League.

"We got wind of [this game] at the end of spring training," said West Michigan's Aaron Westlake, who had a two-run double in the fifth. "It is fun to see a new ballpark, and we get to watch the big-league team play up close.

"And we get to watch the Triple-A team too. They are guys we got to know at spring training. And with it packed out, it was fun."

Both Westlake and Strieby said they didn't approach the contest as an opportunity to impress Leyland or Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, who also was at the ballpark.

"They are here and they can see you, but it's not like this game is any bigger than any other," Strieby said. "They saw us for four or five weeks in spring training -- it is an opportunity to do well, but it's not more important than any other game."

Nevin said he tried to use the contest to give his team an opportunity to knock off some of the rust in preparation for Friday's season-opener against Indianapolis.

"We haven't played a team in another uniform since [March 29]," Nevin said. "To get out there and get at-bats against a live pitcher, and for our pitchers to face hitters, was good.

"You'd like to see more strikes thrown [the Hens walked eight], but we will."

Detroit's Miguel Cabrera scores as Mud Hens catcher Omir Santos waits for the throw. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera scores as Mud Hens catcher Omir Santos waits for the throw.
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Leyland, who grew up in Perrysburg, said he enjoyed managing at Fifth Third Field in the Tigers' first exhibition appearance in Toledo since 2000.

"I appreciated the turnout," he said. "It was a great turnout for the Mud Hens and the Tigers, and it was a nice day.

"A few of my friends were here, and that was nice. But this is a great working affiliate for us. If someone in Detroit stubs their toe in batting practice, if this team is home I can get them [to Detroit] in 45 minutes. That works out pretty well."

Leyland approached the contest as another "work" day as his team prepares to open the season Thursday against Boston at Comerica Park.

"I didn't pay much attention to our record [in spring training]," Leyland admitted. "We did what I wanted us to do -- we were .500 or better -- but we got the guys ready, and that was the most important thing.

"But it doesn't matter what we did now, except that we got the team ready. Now we just play."

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.



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