Justin Verlander won on opening day for the first time in six tries, pitching five shutout innings at frosty Target Field and sending the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers past the Minnesota Twins 4-2 on Monday.
With the gametime temperature at 35 degrees and the wind blowing at 17 mph, fans had to bundle up. But opening day is always a draw, as evidenced by the announced crowd of 38,282, a sellout by Twins guidelines.
Verlander had been 0-1 in his previous five openers. Phil Coke got the last two outs for the first save by the Tigers' closer committee.
Prince Fielder, wearing a black ski covering on his head, had two hits and an RBI to help spoil Vance Worley's first start for the Twins, who left 12 runners on, including the bases loaded in the seventh.
Tigers reliever Drew Smyly gave up a run on a wild pitch in the sixth inning and another on an RBI single by Ryan Doumit in the seventh. Al Alburquerque struck out back-to-back batters to finish that inning and strand three men.
With Verlander's $180 million contract extension that could keep the right-hander with the Tigers through 2020, Tigers manager Jim Leyland took the safe route by removing him after those five dominant innings.
Doubles by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were the only signs of resistance by the Twins, who haven't beaten Verlander since April 27, 2010. He is 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA in nine starts during that span.
The former AL MVP and Cy Young winner (1-0) threw 91 pitches, striking out seven and giving up three hits and two walks.
In conditions that favored the men on the mound over the players at the plate, Verlander struck out Twins rookie Aaron Hicks in each of the center fielder's first three at-bats. Skipping Triple-A to face a pitcher like Verlander is a tough transition, even for the 14th overall pick from the 2008 draft.
Hicks is one of a handful of enticing prospects the Twins are counting on for a turnaround from 96 and 99 losses the last two seasons. Most of the rest of them are pitchers still in the minors, with the Twins trying to revamp a rotation that had the third-worst ERA in the majors last year.
Worley (0-1) worked sleeveless for his Twins debut and first AL appearance, completing six innings with eight hits, three runs and one walk. He struck out three.
The right-hander, acquired in the trade that sent speedy outfielder Ben Revere to Philadelphia, needed 24 pitches to finish the first inning.
Fielder followed an RBI grounder by Miguel Cabrera with a double down the left-field line that stretched the lead to two.
The big-swinging, power-hitting Tigers looked more like a small-ball team on this day. Whatever works, when the weather makes it hard to get a hit, let alone hit a homer.
Torii Hunter, in the unfamiliar No. 2 spot in the batting order, marked his Tigers debut with a hit-and-run opposite-field single that keyed a two-run first. Jhonny Peralta stole second base to put himself in position to score on Omar Infante's single in the second.
After Fielder led off the eighth inning with a single, Andy Dirks laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt to advance the runners. Fielder scored later on a wild pitch by Josh Roenicke to make it 4-2.
NOTES: The Twins played outside at Metropolitan Stadium for their home opener on April 14, 1962, when it was 33 degrees. Announced attendance that day was 8,363. ... The gametime temperatures for the first three home openers at Target Field were 65, 63 and 45 degrees. ... The Tigers have won 16 of their last 20 games at Target Field since Sept. 2, 2010, outscoring the Twins 117-81 in that stretch. ... After taking Tuesday off, the teams resume the series Wednesday with RHP Kevin Correia making his debut for the Twins opposite Tigers RHP Anibal Sanchez.
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