Opportunistic Tigers win home opener
Detroit takes advantage of Indians' three-run error in fifth
DETROIT -- Considering some of the loudest ovations from the Comerica Park crowd came when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, Tigers fans were ready to pounce on most anything to get going. So were Tigers players, many of whom learned the lesson on how valuable every win is from their tiebreaker finish last year.
For the third time in four games this season, the Tigers seized on an opportunity and won a game in which they were trailing, making Friday's 5-2 victory over the Indians a happy home opener in Detroit. This time, speedy Austin Jackson was the perfect Tigers player to do the pouncing.
With one errant throw in the dirt from Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers went from a spoiled bases-loading rally to a two-run lead with the bases cleared. Rick Porcello went from a potential season-opening loss to a game in which he was effective enough without his best stuff, just as David Huff fell from a chance at an eye-opening win to a pitching line littered with unwarranted damage.
"You know, any way you can score runs, that's good," Magglio Ordonez said.
This way didn't have nearly the same dramatic effect as, say, another Miguel Cabrera homer. But it takes a lot of aggressiveness, especially on Jackson's part, and it changed a game.
"Sometimes plays like that, obviously it has a lot to do with his speed," manager Jim Leyland said.
There are still issues with the Tigers, starting with the fact that they've scored precious few earned runs off opposing starters. Nonetheless, their 3-1 start is their best since 2006, and all three Tigers victories this season have come through comebacks. But neither of Detroit's rallies in Kansas City earlier this week turned so much on one particular play. Huff had blanked the Tigers on one hit through four innings before four fifth-inning singles, two of them infield ground balls, built Detroit's threat.
They were piecing together a rally rather than scoring runs in a bunch. Jackson had one of those infield singles when his ground ball left shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with no play at any base, only a late throw to second as Adam Everett slid in and Gerald Laird dashed home.
A sacrifice fly or simple groundout would've tied the game, but Huff erased that opportunity with an infield fly from Johnny Damon. Huff fell behind on Ordonez, who fired a ground ball right at Peralta at third. The ball was hit hard enough that Peralta couldn't corral it initially, only knock it down, but he still had enough time to throw out Ordonez at first.
Once Peralta's throw bounced in the dirt and skipped past first baseman Andy Marte, it was a race. Scott Sizemore and Everett were scoring for sure, but Jackson took off quickly enough that he was well around second base when the throw skipped away.
Jackson kept going -- kept flying, more accurately -- as the Indians scrambled to grab the ball near the tarp down the right-field line. He didn't think twice.
"Once it kicked up and it went to the fence, I knew I had a pretty good chance of scoring," Jackson said. "I've done that play several times, where the infielder threw the ball to the fence, and I've scored on that. I was pretty confident that I could score."
Jackson didn't even slide. His extra run turned what would've been a one-run Tigers lead into two, which became all the more important once Huff induced a Cabrera fly to right for the third out.
"Nobody else we have would've done that, probably," Leyland said of Jackson. "But it's also where the ball goes, how it bounces, how it sets up, if an infielder's back there. So it doesn't surprise me.
"He's an excellent baserunner to go along with very good speed. He's really a good baserunner, a very instinctive baserunner. I've been impressed."
He's certainly an aggressive one, and he showed it again later for one more insurance tally. Jackson's four-pitch walk leading off the seventh put him on base to create havoc for reliever Jamey Wright, whose slow delivery home gave Jackson an ample jump to steal second. Damon's ninth-pitch grounder to second moved up Jackson for Ordonez, who doubled over center fielder Grady Sizemore and to the out-of-town scoreboard.
It was a manufactured insurance run, a big one, the kind they didn't produce as much as they would've liked last year.
"That was a textbook run," Leyland said. "That was something he can be good with. Jackson steals second, Johnny does a great job of hooking a grounder, then Magglio picked him up. That's the kind of baseball you want to play when you draw it up."
They can't play it up and down their lineup, but they can play it with certain portions. Jackson's potential is obvious, not just with speed but aggressiveness. It heated up what was generally a frosty day for offense, and turned Porcello (1-0) into a winner for his five-plus innings of five-hit ball. Phil Coke, Joel Zumaya and Jose Valverde held the Indians scoreless from there, with Valverde earning his first save as a Tiger.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.