NEW YORK — Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run homer, Torii Hunter also connected and the Detroit Tigers tagged Daisuke Matsuzaka early in his return to the majors, beating the New York Mets 6-1 on Friday night.
Hunter added a long, two-run double and Doug Fister (11-6) pitched into the seventh inning to help Detroit win the interleague series opener. Austin Jackson went deep for the second straight day for the AL Central leaders, back in New York after dropping two of three at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago.
The series resumes Saturday afternoon with a rematch of All-Star game starters at Citi Field: Max Scherzer puts his 18-1 record on the line against New York ace Matt Harvey in a nationally televised game.
The Mets said it’s the first time All-Star game starters will square off in a regular-season game during the same season, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
Minus two injured starters, the Mets signed Matsuzaka on Thursday to fill a hole in the rotation and immediately handed him a difficult assignment. Led by Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers began the night leading the majors in batting average and second in runs.
The right-hander from Japan, a former Red Sox star who had been pitching in Cleveland’s farm system, got off to a promising start. Working on three days’ rest, he threw a called third strike past Jackson and was ahead 0-2 on Hunter when the five-time All-Star sent a loud drive far beyond the left-field fence.
Cabrera and Fielder followed with singles, but Dice-K prevented further damage.
He wasn’t as fortunate in the second.
Omar Infante led off with an infield single and Jackson walked with two outs. Hunter hit a ground-rule double that bounced over the 408 sign in straightaway center field to put the Tigers up 2-1.
Cabrera crushed the next pitch, a 91 mph fastball that he sent soaring just inside the left-field foul pole for his 41st home run. Chasing his second consecutive AL Triple Crown, Cabrera began the night with comfortable leads in batting average and RBIs, but he was six home runs behind Baltimore slugger Chris Davis.
Working with rookie Travis d’Arnaud, catching his fifth major league game, Matsuzaka settled in from there and did not allow another baserunner. He retired his final 10 batters and was charged with five runs on six hits over five innings.
Jackson added a solo shot in the seventh off reliever Carlos Torres, originally scheduled to start the game before the Mets signed Matsuzaka (0-1) for the remainder of this season.
The Red Sox shelled out more than $100 million to import Matsuzaka before the 2007 season. He won 33 games and a World Series ring during his first two years in the majors, but injuries and poor performances followed. He had Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in 2011.
Matsuzaka went 1-7 with an 8.28 ERA in 11 starts for Boston last season and was beaten out by Scott Kazmir for the final spot in Cleveland’s rotation this spring. The 32-year-old pitcher agreed to go to Triple-A Columbus, where he was 5-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 19 starts.
After working through early season injuries, Matsuzaka had been effective in recent weeks. He asked for and was granted his release by the Indians on Tuesday, and the third-place Mets decided he was their best option to fill a void the rest of the way.
Fister gave up only an RBI single to Marlon Byrd in the first. The big right-hander allowed eight hits in 6 1-3 innings before three relievers finished up.
NOTES: Victor Martinez, normally a DH, made his first start at catcher for Detroit since Aug. 4, 2011. ... The Tigers said C Alex Avila left his rehab game Thursday with Triple-A Toledo after three innings due to dizziness. Avila is on the disabled list with concussion symptoms. ... Fister was 0-1 in his previous three starts after winning four in a row. ... Mets manager Terry Collins said he wears No. 10 in grateful tribute to Jim Leyland and credited the Detroit skipper with being a mentor who helped him reach the majors. Leyland gave Collins his first big league coaching job in 1992 with Pittsburgh. ... To make room for Matsuzaka, the Mets optioned reliever Greg Burke to Triple-A Las Vegas. ... Attendance was 37,023, with a postgame concert scheduled by Third Eye Blind.