April 5, 2013 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul

Opening Day Insider: Tigers follow familiar formula to score

Detroit — If you had a little flashback feeling in the first inning of the Tigers' home opener Friday against the New York Yankees, you weren't alone. The Tigers probably felt it, too.

After Austin Jackson led off with a single, he broke for a steal — when Torii Hunter found a hole where the second baseman would've been. That put runners at the corners with no out for Miguel Cabrera, who drove in the run with a fielder's choice grounder he surprisingly beat out to avoid the double play.

Then Cabrera reached second on a wild pitch.

Sound familiar?

That's the exact sequence of events the Tigers used to score their first run of the season in Minneapolis on Monday — right down to the Hunter placement hit, Cabrera beating out a double play, and Cabrera advancing to second base.

Guess that's their formula for success. They won both of those games.

Ranking the ovations

Fans were in a cheery mood at Comerica Park and let their Tigers know it.

During pregame festivities with the players being introduced individually along the baselines — that's still one of my favorite Opening Day inclusions — several Tigers received impressive roars. But none was louder than the ovation for Justin Verlander.

Competitive in everything, congrats Justin. You won again.

Here's how I judged the full raucous rankings:

Verlander, then Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez (welcome back!), Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, Hunter (welcome!), Doug Fister, Alex Avila, Leyland, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante and Andy Dirks.

Ex-Tiger Brennan Boesch, now with the Yankees, got a nice hand, too — then a bundle of boos his first time up.

Banner day

It wasn't quite the one they wanted, but it was nice all the same.

The Tigers, before the game, showed off their American League championship banner, which then was hoisted up the middle flagpole atop the Chevrolet Fountain in center field. It was flanked by the Tigers' four World Series banners, two on each side.

The Giants, in a four-game sweep, denied the Tigers a fifth one of those.

The Tigers' "Big Three," Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder, took part in the ceremony.

So, what about the rings? The Tigers received them in 2007, after winning the AL the previous year, and they will again. Made by Jostens, those will be handed out to players in a pregame ceremony Saturday.

With the Yankees in town, that means Boesch will get his, too.

Nervous Coke

He has been in two save situations this year, after several during last year's playoff run.

So, nothing can give Phil Coke butterflies, right?

Wrong. Opening Day can.

"No, no, not really," the left-hander said before the game, when asked if he'd slept much the night before. "But it wasn't like a bad thing. It was like a little kid going to Disneyland for the first time. When they know it's the next day, they can't sleep."

As for his favorite Opening Day memory, Coke said his first with the Tigers, in 2010. All because of the atmosphere. Few towns (St. Louis and Cincinnati, maybe) do Opening Day like Detroit.

"There's something different and special about it here in the city of Motown," Coke said.

Around the horn

The Tigers announced a crowd of 45,051, the largest for Opening Day in the ballpark's 14-year history. It's the second-largest ever, behind a July 2008 game against the White Sox.

The Tigers expect another massive crowd Saturday, marking the second straight season they've sold out the second home game of the second. The first time? Just last year.

… The Tigers paid a touching tribute to late pitcher Virgil Trucks with a video montage and a moment of silence, during which all the lights in the park were turned off.

… First career save for Drew Smyly, and boy did he earn it — with four perfect innings.

tpaul@detroiitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

Austin Jackson singles to lead off the first inning Friday at Comerica Park. / Robin Buckson/Detroit News
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