The Detroit News' Tony Paul on the Tigers' 5-4 win over the Royals on Thursday, and the team's 5-3 start. Tony Paul, The Detroit News
Detroit — The Tigers and their still-in-hibernation offense continue to find a way to do just enough.
And, oh boy, this was a new one.
The Tigers scored twice in the seventh inning without even one hit en route to a 5-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Opening Day in Detroit on Thursday.
Two Royals relievers walked four consecutive Tigers to open the seventh, with Niko Goodrum's four-pitch freebie forcing in the first one. Christin Stewart later followed with a sacrifice fly to left as Detroit won its Comerica Park opener for the 10th time in 11 years and the 13th time in 20 openers at this park.
Royals reliever Kyle Zimmer, making his second major-league appearance, walked Josh Harrison, Nick Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera to open the seventh.
"Quality at-bats," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We made the guy work, saw he was misfiring.
"Our hitters did what they had to do."
Kevin McCarthy relieved Zimmer and abruptly walked Goodrum before getting the next three hitters out.
Goodrum's bases-loaded walk capped a three-RBI day that included two doubles, the one in the fifth-inning a run-scoring knock to right after the Royals pitched cautiously to and walked Cabrera ahead of him. (For the record, Goordum said he'd pitch around Cabrera to get to him, too). Goodrum now has six doubles through the season's first eight games.
Cabrera also picked up his first RBI of 2019, on a first-inning single as the Tigers took an early 2-1 lead. Only twice in his career has Cabrera ever taken more than three games to get his first RBI of the season — in his ninth game in 2017, and his eighth in 2019.
It was Cabrera's 1,636th career RBI, tying Mr. Cub Ernie Banks for 32nd all-time.
Spencer Turnbull, the young Tigers right-hander, didn't get the win — more importantly, neither did he get a loss. (Odd fact: No Tigers starter has lost the home opener since Jeremy Bonderman in 2006.) But Turnbull was terrific, with 10 strikeouts in six innings, a day after fellow starter Matt Boyd K'd 13.
"He's nasty," said Goodrum, who sure would know, with the best head-on view from his perch in center field. "Spencer's nasty."
Tigers pitchers now have 81 strikeouts through 72 innings, the eye-popping stat of the season in Detroit.
Turnbull did allow three runs. Only two of the runs were earned, and really, only one would've happened had two Tigers outfielders not taken routes to the ball with all the precision of a drunk on an Etch a Sketch. Castellanos misplayed a ball to right in the first inning, and Goodrum on a ball to center in the fifth.
Turnbull's only suspect inning was a three-hit third, in which he allowed one run, but still stranded two. Everything else was pretty much on for the 26-year-old, a kid getting the ball on Opening Day.
"You don't want to screw it up," he said, with a smile.
Blaine Hardy (1-0) worked two innings of solid relief, though he allowed a home run to Alex Gordon to tighten things up in the eighth.
Shane Greene earned his fifth save, one in each of the Tigers' wins, the announced crowd of 42,641 on its feet when he got Whit Merrifield and his 26-game hitting streak to ground to second base — where Josh Harrison delivered another outstanding play — to end it.
"If my uniform's not dirty," said Harrison, "I'm going to be upset."
He was not upset Thursday, not with his three runs scored, two walks and two stolen bases — his breakout game as a Tiger — and nor were Harrison's young and wide-eyed teammates, walking around with some swagger, music bumping in the background, in the postgame clubhouse.
Harrison's long-time Pittsburgh pal, Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer, also had a highlight catch, an over-the-shoulder grab on the popup in the third inning to probably save a run. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario made a nice, key stab, too.
So, to summarize: While the bats may still be sleeping — it was 39 degrees at game time, to be fair, and the five runs, at least, are a season high, though they had just six hits to go with 10 Ks — a whole lot else is going right for these Tigers early in 2019.
"Well, yeah," Gardenhire, slowly, deadpanned, when asked in generic terms if he's pleased with this 5-3 start. "We've got a lot of good things going on."