Smyly a do-it-all reliever

Pitcher bounces back to earn 1st save at any level


DETROIT — Drew Smyly watched the Tigers’ home opener from the Comerica Park stands last year.

He’d prefer his experience Friday.

Four days after an ill-fated season debut, the starter-turned-reliever pitched four hitless innings to earn his first save at any level in the Tigers’ 8-3 win over the Yankees.

Smyly, who went 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA last season after beginning the year in Toledo, left spring training as the odd man out of the rotation — and inspired little confidence in his first appearance Monday. Smyly allowed two runs on three hits and walked three in 1⅓ innings on a raw day in Minnesota.

“Smyly’s a really good pitcher,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Friday. “You have to remember, conditions were really tough that first day. Guys couldn’t feel their breaking balls, the ball was slippery.”

Yet Smyly appeared a different pitcher against the Yankees, throwing four no-hit innings with five strikeouts and no walks. Maybe the Tigers can just wrap. For one day on this closer-less team, he was the long reliever, specialist, set-up man, and stopper all in one.

“It’s a closer by committee,” Smyly said. “All we’re thinking about is pitching good. Go do your job and the next thing will fall in place.”

OPEN SEASON: How much pomp and excitement accompanied the Tigers’ home opener?

“Reminds me of [the first day of] deer season in Pennsylvania,” said Leyland, who managed the Pirates for 11 seasons and still makes his home outside of Pittsburgh. “Back when everybody took off schools. It was like a holiday. ... Dads took their kids. It was a big celebration, and this is a big celebration day for Detroit.”

Asked if there was a similar unofficial holiday in his native Perrysburg, Leyland smiled.

“Maybe watching the water towers rust,” he cracked.

FAREWELL TOUR: The Tigers plan to recognize Yankees closer Mariano Rivera on his way out of Detroit on Sunday.

It will be the all-time saves leader’s last regular-season game at Comerica Park, and a finale that’s been a long time coming for the Tigers. Rivera has converted 23 straight save opportunities against them since blowing a game at Tiger Stadium in July, 1999 — the second-longest such reign over Detroit. Texas’ Joe Nathan has saved 35 straight games against the Tigers.

Rivera, 41, who recorded his 609th career save Thursday, announced last month he will retire after the season.

SIX DEGREES OF MUD HENS: These Tigers know I-75 well.

Nine players on the Opening Day roster spent time in Mud Hens threads en route to Detroit while six had rehab stopovers in Toledo.

Pitchers Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Darin Downs, Brayan Villareal, and Al Alburquerque, infielders Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago, outfielder Andy Dirks, and utilityman Don Kelly were all one-time Toledo regulars.

Designated hitter Victor Martinez, center fielder Austin Jackson, catcher Alex Avila, and pitchers Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, and Doug Fister all rehabbed in Toledo.

EXTRA INNINGS: The crowd of 45,051 marked the largest Opening Day showing in Comerica Park’s 14-year history — and the second-largest overall. The Tigers drew 45,280 fans in July, 2008, against the White Sox. ... Detroit improved to 61-51-1 in home openers and 8-6 in Comerica debuts.