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Published: Tuesday, 4/1/2008

Tigers miss out: Vaunted Detroit lineup fails to get big hit in loss

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - The bells and whistles of opening day went off without a hitch at Comerica Park yesterday.

The Detroit Tigers' vaunted offense, however, failed to launch.

A record crowd of 44,934 went unimpeded by rain in its quest to steer clear of work and school, cheer its heroes, and celebrate the unofficial arrival of spring. In fact, the weather stayed dry long enough for an 11-inning party that lasted three hours and 37 minutes.

But a Tigers lineup loaded with superstars couldn't capitalize time and again on key opportunities, and the day ended for the home team with a dreary 5-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals.

The Tigers went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base. They had the potential tying run at third base with one out in the 11th, but new shortstop Edgar Renteria and his double-play partner Placido Polanco failed to get that run home.

"We had one of the best hitters in baseball up with a man on third and two outs in the last inning. I'll take that situation every time," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.

Polanco's sharp grounder with two outs was snared by diving Royals third baseman Alex

Gordon, who got up and threw to first to seal the victory for the Royals.

Before that, Renteria, coming off a year in which he batted .332 and struck out just 77 times for Atlanta last season, whiffed against Kansas City closer Joakim Soria with rookie Tigers outfielder Clete Thomas standing on third base.

"The furthest thing from my mind was that Renteria would strike out because it doesn't happen very often," Leyland said. "The guy made a good pitch, a breaking ball that went out of the strike zone."

Polanco said Renteria would've gotten Thomas home "99.9 percent of the time" because he's "such a good hitter."

But Soria, like the three Royals pitchers before him, made the pitches he needed to at the right time.

"It was a really good game," Polanco said. "We played, what, [11] innings? We just couldn't get the big hits."

The Tigers certainly had their moments on offense, pounding out 10 hits.

Carlos Guillen went 3-for-5 with two runs scored. He smacked a home run off Brett Tomko in the eighth inning to tie the game at 4.

Newly acquired third baseman Miguel Cabrera belted a fifth-inning homer off starting pitcher Gil Meche in his first game as a Tiger. Thomas doubled in his first major league at-bat to lead off the 11th.

Magglio Ordonez, the reigning American League batting champion, singled and doubled in his first two at-bats but weakly flied out with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth. He also grounded into a double play in the seventh and popped out to end the ninth.

"Sometimes he makes it look easy, but it's not that easy," Leyland said.

Royals reliever Leo Nunez worked two innings to record the victory. The win was the first as a big-league manager for Kansas City skipper Trey Hillman.

Charged with the loss was Tigers reliever Denny Bautista, who gave up a two-out bloop single to Tony Pena Jr. that scored John Buck.

The Royals nearly scored one batter earlier, but center fielder Brandon Inge threw out Mark Teahan at home plate after Buck singled.

Tigers starter Justin Verlander was charged with four runs in six innings. He pitched into the seventh but was pulled after walking Teahan and allowing a single to Ross Gload.

Detroit was up 3-0 when Gordon blasted a two-run homer off Verlander in the sixth. Verlander gave way to Jason Grilli in the seventh, and Buck immediately singled off him to tie the game.

The Royals went ahead on Mark Grudzielanek's single off Aquilino Lopez with two outs in the seventh.

Verlander, making his first-career start on opening day, gave up four hits and struck out six.

"It was something special for me," Verlander said. "But obviously I didn't like the way it turned out."

The Tigers and Royals will resume their three-game series at 1:05 p.m. tomorrow.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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