NEW YORK — Miguel Cabrera and the hard-hitting Tigers were too much for Daisuke Matsuzaka in his return to the majors.
Cabrera hit a three-run homer, Torii Hunter also connected and Detroit tagged Matsuzaka early in his Mets debut to beat New York 6-1 on Friday night.
“When I used to catch him in Boston, he had a little more on it,” Tigers slugger Victor Martinez said. “Today I think his ball was pretty straight. He left a few pitches up in the zone, and the big guys didn’t miss.”
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 today 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.
“You can’t beat that matchup,” Hunter said. “If you blink you’re going to miss something.”
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.
“I figure this place will be hopping pretty good,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “It should be fun.”
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 and wearing No. 16, he threw a called third strike past Jackson and was ahead 0-2 on Hunter when the five-time All-Star sent a booming 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.
“I was thinking about how I wanted to pitch him from before the game, but it was hard to figure it out until you face him," Matsuzaka said through a translator. “I don’t think it was a bad pitch, but he hit a home run off it.”
Chasing his second consecutive AL Triple Crown, Cabrera has comfortable leads in batting average and RBIs. He moved within five home runs of Baltimore slugger Chris Davis.
“It's just unbelievable,” Fister said, then changed his tune. “It’s no longer unbelievable. It’s definitely believable, and he’s doing it for a long time in a row now.”
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.
“I thought the last three innings he was very, very good,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “The arm issues have caused his velocity to go down a little bit. But I tell you what, his breaking stuff is still very good. I was happy with the way he finished up.”
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 in 2007. 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 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.
“I just kind of studied his old video and went off that,”Hunter said.
Fister gave up only an RBI single to Marlon Byrd in the first. The big right-hander induced two double plays and allowed eight hits in 6 1-3 innings before three relievers finished up.