For 20 seasons at Comerica Park, here are 20 epic Tigers moments
Detroit — Barely days after purchasing the Tigers from a fellow pizza mogul, Mike Ilitch already was thinking about a new home for his ballpark. Knowing most fans wouldn't be on board immediately, he originally sold his plan as "commissioning a study" on whether to renovate Tiger Stadium or build a new stadium, but he always had his mind made up.
If the Tigers were going to get the revenue he would need to eventually pack his payroll with the biggest of stars, he would need a state-of-the-art facility, complete with luxury boxes. He also knew moving the team to the middle of downtown would be huge, especially for his growing empire.
Eight years after he bought the Tigers, on April 11, 2000, Comerica Park, built heavily on the backs of Detroit taxpayers, opened its turnstiles, if not to rave reviews — frankly, the ballpark was too darn big, earning the nickname Comerica National Park — then to darn good accolades, even the most diehard fans stubbornly admitting it was pretty nice, even if they understandably missed the charm, the right-field overhang, Death Valley in center field, and even those nasty trough-like urinals of the old ballpark.
Today, Comerica Park holds up dandy to the test of time, even if it's never going to win any "best of" awards. In 1994, six years before Comerica Park opened, the Texas Rangers unveiled the Ballpark in Arlington. Sometime in 2020, if there is a baseball season, they will open their new stadium.
Comerica Park, meanwhile, isn't going anywhere, because the Tigers have kept up with the times, and the fans' wishes. Most notably, they wasted barely any time in moving the bullpens from right to left, which served two purposes — opening some great bleacher seats in right, and moving in the fences in left. They've upgraded the video board in left, and the scoreboards throughout the park. They found places to add capacity during their 2006-14 heyday. You could easily see Comerica Park, the original anchor of a downtown resurgence that now includes Ford Field and Little Caesars Arena, lasting another 50 years.
That's a lot of time for the Tigers to make a whole lot more memories a stone's throw off Woodward, assuming the fruits of the rebuild eventually come to fruition.
There now have been 20 Major League Baseball seasons played at Comerica Park, and given we have not a clue when there will be the 21st, now is as good a time as any to take a stroll down memory lane, looking back at 20 of the greatest Tigers moments at the not-so-old ballpark. There were no shortage of candidates, even though you'll notice we're a little light at the beginning of the park's run, and more recently. But for several years in-between, it seemed like every night you were destined to see something spectacular.
April 11, 2000
FIRST GAME AT COMERICA PARK
For the first time in their history, the Tigers were playing a home game at somewhere other than the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. The Tigers ran out the following lineup on that chilly Tuesday afternoon: Luis Polonia (DH), Gregg Jefferies (2B), Bobby Higginson (LF), Tony Clark (1B), Brad Ausmus (C), Dean Palmer (3B), Karim Garcia (RF), Juan Encarnacion (CF) and Deivi Cruz (SS), with Brian Moehler pitching. The Tigers beat the Seattle Mariners, 5-2, on the strength of a two-run Higginson triple, and Todd Jones closed this one out, just as he did months earlier, during the final game at Tiger Stadium.
Sept. 27, 2003
WE'RE NOT THE WORST!
We all know how bad the 2003 Tigers were. But they weren't officially the worst team in Major League Baseball history, thanks to this game, a Saturday night that began with the Tigers just one loss from tying the 1962 New York Mets for most in history — 120 — with just two games to go. And it looked bad from the get-go, with the Minnesota Twins, managed by future Tigers skipper Ron Gardenhire, taking an 8-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning. But Detroit fought all the way back and eventually won it on Warren Morris' "walk-off" strikeout, of all things, in the ninth. They then won the next day to finish with only 119 losses.
April 4, 2005
THRICE AS NICE
The Tigers have had a great run of success in home openers at Comerica Park, 13-7 so far, including nine consecutive wins from 2009-17. There have been many great opening memories, including walk-offs. Among the greatest openers, though, was this one, an 11-2 win over the Kansas City Royals in which Dmitri Young homered in the second inning (solo shot), homered again the following inning (two-run shot) and, for good measure, went deep once more in the eighth (two-run shot). Only three other men have hit three home runs on Opening Day. Young reached base five times in all, including on a single and a hit by pitch.
July 17, 2005
The Tigers have had some great brawls over the years, including with the New York Yankees at Comerica Park in 2017 (Miguel Cabrera vs. current teammate Austin Romine). But most of the great ones have seemed to be on the road, like, in recent memory, with the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals. Here's a good one from the CoPa archives, though. It all began with Runelvys Hernandez nearly hitting Carlos Guillen, and then hitting him in the helmet on the next pitch — Hernandez's third hit batter of the game. The definitive moment was 6-foot-4 Tigers reliever Kyle Farnsworth bodyslamming 6-4 Royals reliever Jeremy Affeldt.
July 1, 2005
The first signature event at Comerica Park was the 2005 All-Star Game, which itself wasn't all that memorable — Google tells us the American League beat the National League, 7-5 — but the Home Run Derby sure was, thanks to an epic performance by Tigers catcher Pudge Rodriguez. Not much of a home-run hitter, he sure put on a show for the hometown crowd, which was in an absolute frenzy by the time Rodriguez hit eight homers in the second round to advance to the finals. There, he lost to Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bobby Abreu, who hit some absolute bombs to the concourse in right, but it still felt like a win for Detroit.
Aug. 5, 2006
You could pick a whole host of moments from 2006, the year the Tigers finally decided to come out of hibernation and burst back onto the baseball scene — three years after setting the American League record for losses. Among the regular-season highlights was this night, a Saturday, with 43,015 fans in the stands. The Cleveland Indians led, 3-2, entering the bottom of the ninth and had the man then known as Fausto Carmona on the mound. Brandon Inge led off with a single, and two outs later, Pudge Rodriguez sent the first pitch he saw high and deep into the night for the walk-off as Detroit improved to an unbelievable 74-36.
Oct. 7, 2006
CHAMPAGNE ALL AROUND
The Tigers clinched their first playoff spot since 1987 in September in Kansas City, and were expected to eventually claim the AL Central crown. But it never happened, as they slumped down the stretch and had to settle for a wild card. That set them up on a date with the vaunted New York Yankees, a seemingly bad break for a team that had such a special year. But after a Game 1 loss, the Tigers took the next three to win it, and then kicked off a celebration for the ages — with the players sticking around to party with the fans, Joel Zumaya spraying them with champagne, and Kenny Rogers dumping some bubbly on a cop's head.
Oct. 14, 2006
THE TIGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!
Just one week later, the Tigers kept the good times rolling, this time with a walk-off that might go down as the second-most memorable moment in franchise history — behind Kirk Gibson's epic home run in the 1984 World Series. The Tigers held a three games-to-none lead on the Oakland A's in the AL Championship Series and it was just a matter of time before they made their first World Series since 1984, but they found themselves tied at 3 in the bottom of the ninth. A's closer Huston Street got the first two outs before back-to-back singles brought up Magglio Ordonez, whose home run remains just one of 11 to end a playoff series.
June 12, 2007
JV'S FIRST NO-HITTER
Tigers fans hadn't seen one of their pitches throw a no-hitter in Detroit since May 15, 1952, when Virgil Trucks did it. That changed on this night, a Tuesday, the day we can point to when "Must-See JV" became a thing. The hard-throwing right-hander and reigning American League rookie of the year had the Milwaukee Brewers baffled — as dozens of seagulls swirled the stadium all night long, sometimes distracting the hitters. Verlander finished with 12 strikeouts, and with the help of two great defensive plays from shortstop Neifi Perez and right fielder Magglio Ordonez, he made history when J.J. Hardy flew out to right to end it.
Aug. 24-25 2007
Typically, this game would've been called and rescheduled, but the Tigers had 44,163 paying customers they preferred not to disappoint. So they waited out a hard summer rain storm until first pitch finally came at 11:06 p.m. The Tigers and New York Yankees each scored six runs in the first five innings, before the bats went silent — until, can you believe, 3:30 in the morning on the 25th, when Carlos Guillen, batting from the right side, drove a 1-2 Sean Henn offering deep into the damp sky for a three-run walk-off home run. There still was a decent crowd there, some staying from the beginning, and others walking in for free in the late innings.
June 2, 2010
The Tigers have never thrown a perfect game — but they have thrown what many consider the sport's only 28-out perfecto. Little-known right-hander Armando Galarraga was on his game this Wednesday night against the Cleveland Indians, setting down the first 24 hitters. Then, an epic catch by Austin Jackson in center kept it alive to start the ninth inning, and a routine groundout made it 26, before Jason Donald hit a slow roller to the right of Miguel Cabrera, who grabbed it and flipped it to Galarraga, only for umpire Jim Joyce to blow the call. This remains one of the great displays of forgiveness and goodness in sports history.
July 31, 2011
STRUT YOUR STUFF
This game against the Los Angeles Angels had it all. Magglio Ordonez homered off Jered Weaver in the third inning, which started the tension. Four innings later, Carlos Guillen, Ordonez's good pal, took Weaver deep — and proceeded with one of the most epic home-run struts you'll see, starting with a great bat drop and a shuffling up the first-base line while having words with Weaver. Weaver then was ejected after throwing high and in on Alex Avila, the next batter. Then, in the eighth, working on a no-hitter, Justin Verlander got steamed that Erick Aybar tried bunting for a hit (he reached on an error). The no-hitter ended two batters later.
Aug. 20, 2011
OUT AT HOME
This shouldn't have been a memorable game, given the Tigers raced out a 7-0 lead against the Indians. But the pitching fell apart, and the Indians made a game of it — and trailed by just one run entering the top of the ninth inning. There, they faced closer Jose Valverde, who entered the game a perfect 36-for-36 in save opportunities (albeit, too many of them were stressful). Kosuke Fukudome led off with a walk, then Valverde hit Jason Donald. A bunt moved runners up with one out, before Matt LaPorta hit a flyball to center. Austin Jackson measured, caught it and fired the best throw of his life to get Fukudome at home to seal the sweep.
April 7, 2012
Prince Fielder never should've been a Tiger. But in January 2012, designated hitter Victor Martinez suffered a torn ACL, and Mike Ilitch did what Mike Ilitch always did — he spent big to get the next best thing, in this case, Fielder, who as a 12-year-old would hit home runs into the upper deck at Tiger Stadium, and now as a 27-year-old had signed a nine-year, $214-million contract with the Tigers. It took him little time to warm up to his new fan base, belting his first two Tigers home runs in the same game, the second game of the season, in a rout of the Boston Red Sox. For good measure, his lineup-mate, Miguel Cabrera, also homered twice.
Aug. 5, 2012
THE IMPROBABLE COMEBACK
This might go down as the most improbable victory by the Tigers in Comerica Park history. They entered the bottom of the 10th inning trailing by three runs, and the first two batters were retired easily by Indians closer Chris Perez. But Alex Avila and Andy Dirks walked, Austin Jackson had an RBI double and Omar Infante followed with a two-run single to tie it at 8. Perez then fell behind the next batter, Miguel Cabrera, 3-1, before Cabrera launched a walk-off home run deep into left-center to complete the three-game sweep. This came in the midst of a six-game winning streak that sparked the Tigers, who ended up making the World Series.
Sept. 27, 2012
NINE IN A ROW
The Tigers won this game in walk-off fashion against the Royals, though that's not what's most memorable about it. Doug Fister made history on this Thursday afternoon, and the hilarious thing is, he didn't even really know he had. From the fourth through the seventh innings, Fister, the lanky right-hander, struck out nine consecutive Royals, one entire trip through the lineup — Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Jeff Francoeur, Brayan Pena, Johnny Giavotella, David Lough, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler — to set an AL record. After the ninth, Prince Fielder actually had to walk over and tell Fister to step off and enjoy the cheers.
April 26, 2013
Given his tenure with the Tigers ended swiftly and ugly, folks tend to forget just how good Anibal Sanchez was for a brief time in Detroit, particularly 2013 — a year in which he led the American League in ERA (2.57) and even nearly threw a no-hitter, before Minnesota's Joe Mauer spoiled things with one out in the ninth. But he might never been better than he was on this night, a Friday, against the Atlanta Braves. Sanchez, the right-hander who used a deceptive delivery, struck out 17, breaking the franchise record of 16 set by Mickey Lolich in 1972. Sanchez struck out every Braves starter at least once, and struck out Dan Uggla four times.
June 30, 2014
The night, a Monday, began with everyone in a festive mood, as the team celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1984 World Series champions. It ended in an absolute raucous celebration as the most unlikely of heroes, Rajai Davis, gave the Tigers a most-unlikely victory. The Tigers trailed, 5-1, entering the bottom of the ninth inning against the A's, and were facing Oakland's electric closer, Sean Doolittle, to boot. But Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila led off with singles, and Austin Jackson drew a one-out walk. That brought up Davis, who hit the walk-off grand slam. The Tigers' previous walk-off slams were in 2004, 1994 and 1988.
June 20, 2016
MIGGY HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
Miguel Cabrera has had more highlight-reel moments at Comerica Park than most, but few can forget when he hit a ball out of Comerica Park — like, literally, out of Comerica Park. It came on this night, a Monday, against the Seattle Mariners. In the bottom of the first inning, Cabrera belted a Nate Karns pitch deep over the brick wall in center field. It landed on the concourse, took a huge bounce and left through the open-air gates, where Tigers fan Cory Kinney retrieved the ball on Adams Street, in front of the Detroit Athletic Club. ESPN officially measured the blast at 461 feet, though factoring in bounce and roll, it went a whole lot farther.
Aug. 3, 2016
It's pretty telling that the last moment on this list came a whopping four years ago, but it was a heck of a memory to cap things off. J.D. Martinez hadn't faced major-league pitching in some seven weeks — he had been out with a fractured elbow — when he came to the plate in the eighth inning on this night, a Wednesday, as a pinch-hitter to face Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale. Martinez received a thunderous standing ovation when he was announced, then he stepped into the box and in a scene right out of a movie, the slugger took the first pitch he saw and homered to deep center. Mario Impemba darn near predicted it.