ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
DETROIT — Prince Fielder’s first of three straight blaring drives to right field in the Tigers’ home opener Friday was swiped high against the wall by former teammate Brennan Boesch.
His second crept over the fence.
And his third, like the Tigers, wiped out any suspense — the ball scraping so high against the clear sky that Boesch could not be bothered to turn his head.
On a sun-bleached day at Comerica Park, Detroit finally flexed its high-powered muscle in an 8-3 victory over the depleted Yankees.
Fielder crushed the Tigers’ first home run of the season, then piled on later as he and his teammates set free their early-season frustration. Even No. 8 batter Alex Avila joined the fray, sending one of the home team’s three long balls more than halfway up the right-field stands.
“Can I say ‘bomb?’” asked Torii Hunter, the Tigers’ biggest free-agent acquisition this offseason. “There were some bombs.”
These were not your older brother’s Yankees. With stars Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira on the disabled list, the Bombers appeared impostors — their Pacifist’s Row middle-of-the-order featuring bargain retreads Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Boesch.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
Yet the win was sweet all the same for a sold-out crowd of 45,051 that came in search of offense.
Like the traditional home-opening jet flyover, which was aborted because of federal budget cuts, Fielder and the Tigers’ offense remained grounded in their first three games at Minnesota.
Fielder batted only .167 while his teammates weren’t much better as Detroit scored only eight runs — none via the homer — in dropping two of three games to the Twins.
The burly cleanup hitter, though, steadily reacquainted with his swing Friday.
In the third, he came just short as Boesch chased his liner to the wall and made a leaping catch — a play that elicited a reluctant, “Nice catch,” from Fielder to the former Tiger. In the fifth, he sent a high inside fastball from Yankees starter Ivan Nova about 360 feet for a go-ahead three-run homer. And in the seventh, he let fly a no-doubter that pushed the Tigers ahead 8-3.
Afterward, Fielder said he hopes Friday marked the jump-off to another big year — even bigger than his first one in Detroit, when he batted .313 with 30 homers and 108 RBIs.
“Last year, he was just trying to feel out the new league and he still hit .313,” Hunter said. “This year, he’s been around the block, and you saw what he did today.”
Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland: “We know Prince Fielder’s going to hit. His track record is too good.”
So are those of the Tigers’ top five hitters, which could be the most potent in baseball and made life tough on four Yankees pitchers. Leadoff man Austin Jackson, Hunter, and Fielder combined for six of the Tigers’ nine hits.
“Hitting is contagious in general,” said Avila, who began the day batting .100. “It’s funny how it works that way sometimes. It’s a confidence-booster you don’t even realize until after the fact.”
Detroit’s tandem of starter Doug Fister (1-0) and reliever Drew Smyly, meanwhile, was plenty good enough. Especially Smyly, who came in after Fister allowed three runs over five innings — including a two-run homer to Youkilis that pushed the Yankees ahead 3-2 in the fifth. Returning strong from an uneven debut relief appearance, Smyly held New York scoreless the rest of the way to record the first save of his career.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.