Opening Day: Tigers edge Indians 3-2, Miguel Cabrera hits 2-run homer
Detroit — It was like watching a baseball game in a snow globe for the first couple of innings.
Not that the sub-freezing temperatures and snow flurries could have dampened the spirits of the 8,000 revved-up fans who were back at Comerica Park for the first time since the end of 2019 season.
Nor did it seem to bother Miguel Cabrera or Matthew Boyd a whole lot.
Cabrera lined a two-run home run to right field into the teeth of the snow in the first inning and Boyd pitched 5.2 innings of scoreless ball as the Tigers opened the 2021 season, and the AJ Hinch managerial era, with a 3-2 win over the Cleveland Indians.
"I'm used to it," said Cabrera, the native Venezuelan who lives in Miami, obviously joking. "It's normal for me."
The snow stopped, temperatures climbed to a balmy 34 degrees and every now and then the sun peeked through. But still, there was nothing normal about this home opener.
"It was awesome," Cabrera said. "Coming off last year, a tough year with COVID. Now we come back and have the fans in the stands. It was a lot of energy. I was excited, especially to be back at first base. It was a special day for all of us."
Cabrera hit a 93-mph fastball from reigning American League Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. It left his bat with an exit velocity of 101.8 mph and seemed to skip off the yellow railing atop the wall. With the flurries, even Cabrera couldn’t tell if it cleared, so he slid into second base to be sure.
The second base umpire signaled home run and the call was upheld by video review.
"When I hit the ball, I didn't know what it was going to be," Cabrera said. "I looked at right field and when the ball hit the fence I thought there would be a play at second base. That's why I slide.
"The umpire said home run and I said thank you...It was a good slide, though."
It was his 488th career home run and 350th as a Tiger. He and Al Kaline are the only players to accumulate at least 350 homers and 2,000 hits while wearing a Tigers uniform. It was also Cabrera’s first Opening Day homer since 2008.
"I didn't think on a day like today too many people would hit it out of the ballpark," Hinch said. "Especially oppo (opposite field). That's a pretty strong man, to hit it through the wind and through the snow."
Cabrera wasn’t done. Playing first base for the first time since June 18, 2019, the soon-to-be 38-year-old stole an RBI single from Josh Naylor in the fourth inning. With runners on first and second, Cabrera took a quick step to his right, dived and made a back-handed snare of Naylor’s ground ball.
From the seat of his pants, Cabrera threw to second to get the force out.
"Huge play, saved a run," Hinch said. "It's not marked anywhere on any chart. You can't really measure it. You're not going to really appreciate it unless you watched the game. But when you talk about winning baseball, it's going to be plays like that that are celebrated behind the scenes in the dugout."
Boyd didn’t need much more help. He only allowed three hits, though he got himself in trouble in the fourth and fifth with walks. Cabrera's play bailed him out in the fourth. And in the fifth, Boyd, with his 25th pitch of the inning, got the dangerous Jose Ramirez to fly out to right, stranding two runners.
Hinch had Jose Cisnero warming up in the bullpen and Boyd was at 83 pitches. But he stayed with him.
"He was still really strong," Hinch said. "Once you open that bullpen door, you've got to keep it open for the rest of the game and you're going to roll through a lot of guys. He'd set such a good tone. I thought he earned it.
"It's tough. You don't want Ramirez hitting right-handed very often. Sometimes you don't have a choice. It was a big at-bat and Boyd won it. I circled it on my card. It was kind of the at-bat of the game."
Boyd only posted two strikeouts and seven swings and misses. But the 18 balls the Indians put in play against them had an average exit velocity of 84.8 mph – very little hard contact.
And for his efforts, he earned Randy "Macho Man" Savage WWE championship belt from teammate Derek Holland. Cabrera got the offensive championship belt.
"Derek is an awesome guy," Boyd said. "Just cool team stuff. There's a lot of good camaraderie going on here."
Jose Cisnero got three outs, two by strikeouts, and lefty Daniel Norris got the last out in the seventh and induced a 6-4-3 double-play from Franmil Reyes to end the eighth.
Things got a little interesting in the ninth when Indians catcher Roberto Perez lined a one-out, two-run home run to left off lefty Gregory Soto.
With two outs, Soto walked left-handed hitting Ben Gamel. He was at 20 pitches. Cesar Hernandez was due up and Ramirez was on deck when assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves came out for a visit.
"Just wanted to make sure he had a good game plan," Hinch said. "Soto is still a developing late-inning reliever. He was super disappointed that he got a ball down to Perez and gave up the home run. There was a lot of emotion.
"We needed to cut the emotion right there and get the next hitter. We didn't want Ramirez coming up to bat."
Soto shut the door, getting Hernandez to pop out.
The Tigers got what ended up the winning run in the second. With Victor Reyes at first, JaCoby Jones pulled a double down the line in left. Reyes, challenging the arm of left fielder Eddie Rosario, who overthrew the cutoff man, scored all the way from first.
It was an example of the daring base running Hinch has preached all spring.
"Nobody was moving great today on either side," Hinch said. "We were all wearing 10 layers of clothes. Chip (Hale, third base coach) with a super aggressive send, which I love in cold weather.
"We did some small stuff today that led to big results."
The catalyst, though, was Cabrera.
"He still loves to play," Hinch said. "Watch how he's into it in-between plays and in-between batters. It's just fun to watch Miggy play the game. He plays the game in its entirety.
"I can't thank him enough for being into what we're trying to do here."
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