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Published: Friday, 4/9/2004

Unbeaten Tigers have swagger

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Carlos Guillen is greeted at the plate by Carlos Pena after scoring a run. The 4-0 Tigers battled back from a 3-0 deficit for an easy victory. Carlos Guillen is greeted at the plate by Carlos Pena after scoring a run. The 4-0 Tigers battled back from a 3-0 deficit for an easy victory.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

DETROIT - Reality TV has never brought us a makeover quite like this one. The Detroit Tigers, those loveable losers of 119 games a year ago, now have swagger.

The Tigers fell behind early yesterday in their home opener against Minnesota. But instead of folding up the tent, Detroit hung around, pecked away, and then just overwhelmed the Twins 10-6 by scoring all of its runs after the fifth inning.

“We got down early, but with this group of guys we know we re never out of it,” said outfielder Bobby Higginson, who had two extra-base hits and drove in four runs. “Where in the past, if we were down three or four runs, we knew it was probably over. That s not the case any more, and that s a huge difference.”

Detroit starter Nate Cornejo wobbled in the first inning, allowing two runs on a walk and a couple of hits, but catcher Pudge Rodriguez made a snap throw to pick off a runner and get Cornejo out of the inning. A solo home run by Jose Offerman in the second inning made it a 3-0 Minnesota advantage.

Fans came out in force for the Tigers, setting a record for an Opening Day crowd at Cpmerica park at 42,121. Fans came out in force for the Tigers, setting a record for an Opening Day crowd at Cpmerica park at 42,121.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

“I think I was maybe a little too pumped up at the start of the game, but I knew if I kept battling and put some zeroes up there on the scoreboard, then the guys would come back,” Cornejo said. “We could have easily just sat down and gave up, but we kept sticking in there and battling all the way.”

The Detroit bats were relatively quiet through the first five innings, but the complexion of the game changed for good in the sixth after Alex Sanchez led off with a shot into the stands just inside the foul pole in right. After the Sanchez home run, Fernando Vina sliced a double down the line in left, and Rodriguez moved him to third with a ground out.

Rondell White s hard shot to shortstop scored Vina to make it 3-2 with two down. It didn t end there, however, as Carlos Pena singled up the middle, Carlos Guillen walked, and Higginson scorched a line shot to the track in right-center for a two-run double and a 4-3 Detroit lead.

“Nobody backed off,” Vina said. “Each guy went up there and got a good at-bat and guys started feeding off of each other. It all kind of snowballed for us after that.”

After Jacque Jones hit a home run in the top of the seventh to tie the score 4-4, the Tigers scored five times in the bottom of the inning after the first two batters made outs.

Vina, Rodriguez and White walked, and a wild pitch to Pena scored Vina. Pena then singled up the middle, scoring two runs for a 7-4 Detroit advantage. Guillen s infield hit put two runners on, and Higginson ripped a triple into the right-center gap for a 9-4 lead.

Steve Colyer gave up a two-run homer to Rob Bowen in the ninth after Eric Munson had homered in the Detroit eighth for a 10-4 lead. The Tigers, who did not score 10 runs in a game until after the All-Star break last season, ripped 14 hits and scored seven times with two outs.

“This is the type of game that last year Nate would not have won, and that we probably would not have won,” Detroit manager Alan Trammell said. “It s only been four games, but normally everybody is talking negative. But not now. Confidence is a huge thing and this is a pretty confident bunch right now. Guys are running on adrenaline, and I hope we can keep this going a while.”

The Tigers, who have won their first four games for the first time since 1985, will take today off before facing the Twins twice over the weekend.

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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