The Detroit Tigers rush to congratulate Austin Jackson, left, after his bases-loaded game-winning single in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Detroit. Detroit won 3-2.
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DETROIT — Opening day starter Justin Verlander pitched as expected in the Tigers' 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday at Comerica Park. The rest of Detroit's script needs some work.
Jose Valverde blew a save for the first time in 52 chances, and the Tigers' powerful offense, reinforced by the signature off-season signing of Prince Fielder, was held scoreless for six innings.
None of that mattered in the end to a sun-splashed crowd of 45,027 -- the second-largest in the regular season at the 13-year-old park -- and the Tigers players that spilled onto the field afterward to envelop Austin Jackson.
Jackson's one-out single with the bases loaded in the ninth inning drove in Danny Worth with the winning run, keeping the second-guessing to a minimum over Detroit manager Jim Leyland's decision to pull Verlander after eight scoreless innings.
"We won the ballgame, and that's first and foremost," Verlander said.
Detroit opened their defense of the AL Central title with one of baseball's most balanced rosters. The loss of Victor Martinez over the winter to a season-ending knee injury stirred management to adopt a defiant win-now mindset. They signed Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal, adding the former Brewers slugger to an already potent lineup that includes the defending league batting champion in Miguel Cabrera.
The Tigers, though, did not need their new toys Thursday.
They had Verlander.
While their bats struggled against Boston's Jon Lester, the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP winner stonewalled the visitors.
Verlander allowed two hits and struck out seven over eight innings, summoning an additional reserve when needed. He worked around a leadoff double in the second inning, and struck out cleanup hitter David Ortiz with two runners on and two out in the sixth.
With a mid-90s fastball and precise command of his off-speed pitches -- including a buckling curve -- Verlander said he felt in midseason form. He would have preferred to complete the game but understood Leyland's protective instincts. After the seventh inning, Leyland told his ace he would be limited to 110 pitches. Verlander finished the eighth with 105.
"He wouldn't let me go over that on the first day," Verlander said. "That's why he's the skipper and I'm not. They need to protect us against ourselves."
Leyland no doubt thought the victory was in hand. After catcher Alex Avila's two-out double in the seventh inning broke a scoreless tie and the Tigers added another run in the eighth, a 2-0 lead was entrusted to one of the game's top closers.
Boston instead put the first two batters on base and Ryan Sweeney drove in the tying run two-out double down the right-field line.
"I'm glad that streak's over," Leyland said of Valverde, who was 49-for-49 in save opportunities last season. "It puts that behind us and we can just go forward."
The Tigers' ninth-inning counter helped. After they loaded the bases with one out, Jackson capped a three-hit day with a game-winning single off Alfredo Aceves.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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