By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – For new manager Brad Ausmus, new closer Joe Nathan, new shortstop Alex Gonzalez and rookie Tyler Collins, the Opening Day victory over the Kansas City Royals could not have gone much better.
Thirty-seven-year-old Gonzalez, for whom Detroit traded less than a week earlier, smacked the game-winning hit. With that single, Gonzalez scored Collins, who made the roster after a series of injuries opened up a spot in left field. Ausmus made the call to pinch-run Collins for the older and not-quite-so-speedy Alex Avila, and the replacement paid off. Earlier in the ninth, Nathan set the stage for the comeback by pitching a scoreless top of the inning and maintaining the 3-3 tie.
“You want to do well in front of a home crowd that you’re seeing for the first time,” Nathan said. “You want to do well for them, so you don’t want to get too caught up in that because that can get the better part of you. I tried to just calm myself down, and when I first went out there, I was just saying, ‘Just throw strikes. It’s just about throwing strikes. If you throw strikes, make them beat you.’
“Fortunately I was able to go out, throw some strikes, work ahead and get some guys that have had success against me in the past,” Nathan added, “so it was nice to get those guys out.”
Reliever Evan Reed, who played in just 16 games for the Tigers in 2013, also pitched a scoreless inning.
As well overall as the new players performed, there were certainly rough patches. Gonzalez went 2-for-4 on the day, but his defense looked shaky at times as he committed an error and could not get to another ball. Rajai Davis went 0-for-3, and Ian Kinsler went 0-for-4. Nick Castellanos, who played just 11 games in Detroit in 2013, got two hits but got thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double against Alex Gordon, the name at the top of any list entitled, “Outfielders You Should Not Try To Run On.”
All in all, however, it seemed a solid first outing for a group with a new manager and quite a few new pieces.
Ausmus said he is not one to keep mementos, but he will hold onto the lineup cards from Monday’s game, and he will remember the finish on Gonzalez’s swing for the game-winning single.
The crowd of 45,068 was the second-largest in Comerica history and the largest ever for Opening Day.
“There was two things that could have spoiled Opening Day for me: one, if we lost, and two, if the sun wasn’t out,” Ausmus said after the game. “Because for me Opening Day is, the sun is out, fans are having fun, they’re eating their popcorn, drinking their beer, and for the players, the energy’s higher. It’s really probably, until you get to September pennant race, it’s just kind of the one game that has a playoff atmosphere before September. So it’s fun. There’s always fanfare, someone special sings the national anthem, sometimes you have flyovers, it’s definitely unique among baseball games during the course of the season.”
Needless to say, Ausmus is not getting too worked up over one win with 161 more games to go. That fact did not stop Collins from grinning ear to ear after the game, however, though Opening Day did not unfold quite like he had expected it would.
“Much, much, much [better],” Collins said, shaking his head and smiling. “I couldn’t imagine anything better than this.”