Daily Smoko: Tigers 4, Royals 3

The Detroit Tigers were walkoff winners on opening day as Alex Gonzalez of all people carried the mail. The boys put on quite an exciting show as a Victor Martinez homer and timely hitting provided the offense and Justin Verlander made his way through six gutty innings. Staff writer Nick Shlain was there to see it all go down.

Alex Gonzalez... will save us all? At least for one afternoon the 37 year old shortstop, who was the Milwaukee Brewers first baseman on opening day last year, shined in the motor city on a gorgeous day and it was glorious.

He got started in the top of the seventh with a diving stop to his left on a Billy Butler grounder. The throw to first ended a clean inning for Evan Reed (Yeah, Evan Reed pitched on opening day, more on that later). In the bottom of the inning, Gonzo smashed an 81 mph slider from Aaron Crow into the left-center gap for a game-tying triple. The James Shields struggle face in the dugout after this was priceless. Poor Aaron Crow and his 6.75 ERA against the Tigers in 21 games entering Monday. Did you know the Royals selected him 12th overall in 2009? Because they did and some guy named Mike Trout went 25th in that same round.

Then in the bottom of the ninth, the game more or less found Gonzalez. With the game tied and men on first and third with one out, a sacrifice fly would’ve won the game just fine, but Gonzo was taking names on Monday so he went and lined a single past a drawn-in infield. Good on you, Gonzo. I’m sure people weren’t pleased after your error contributed to a long fourth inning for Justin Verlander (more on that later), but you left everyone satisfied by the end of the day. Nobody bring up that Gonzalez hit .177 with a .433 OPS for the Brewers in 41 games last year, it’s unnecessary. Through Alex Gonzalez we can do all things.

Notes:

-The Tigers made quite a few mistakes in this one. Through six innings, the vibe was not good. In the first inning, Austin Jackson once again chose not to dive for a low line drive off the bat of Eric Hosmer and it went for a double. Maybe he’ll start diving for those? Nah. In the second inning, Torii Hunter dropped a fly ball. Just dropped it. He was preparing to throw the ball in, had it lined up, and it just went off of his glove. In the fourth inning with Verlander already in trouble of his own doing, Gonzalez compounded the issue by booting a two-out Norichika Aoki grounder. Not good times. Verlander made Aoki look silly with changeups on multiple occasions, the error was the only time he reached base all afternoon. Then Verlander walked Omar Infante with the bases loaded for his third walk of the inning on a close pitch down and in. Not good times at all.

-#NoJobas, baby! The bullpen trio of Evan Reed, Al Alburquerque, and Joe Nathan combined to get nine outs and allow just one baserunner, a ground ball single by Salvador Perez. Work on getting Perez out sometime, you guys. I think you’d really like it once you’ve tried it. No strikeouts by any Tigers reliever, so work on that too. But, they didn’t use Joba and that was positive. No Jobas. None. Never.

-Victor Martinez bobbed his first home run of the season in his first at-bat in the second inning. It appeared to come on a mid-80’s cutter from Shields. He almost did it again in the fourth inning on another slider-y cutter thing, but it was just foul down the right field line and he ended up grounding out. Oh, well. Victor didn’t hit his first homer until May fourth last season and his second blast was on May 13th. He’s well ahead of that schedule.

-Miguel Cabrera was almost toast at second base on a double to left in the fourth inning. The throw from Alex “Why are we testing his throwing arm?” Gordon was in time but wide of the bag and Miggy had no plans on sliding. He did slap old friend Infante on the behind, though. That was cute. I also very much enjoyed how Miggy is using “Mercy” by Kanye West instrumentals as his walk-up music this year. Good on you, but take it easy, big friend.

-Nick Castellanos had a fun day. No real adventures in the field from what I remember (I guess there was a foul pop in the 5th he probably could’ve had), but he also tested Gordon’s throwing arm and was promptly sent packing trying to stretch a single into a double. Does Castellanos think he’s fast or something? Somebody let him know if he doesn’t know. He’s not fast and testing Gordon was a mistake, but it was a nice hit off a breaking ball that Shields left up and out over the plate. Castellanos just stuck the bat out there and it went off the end of the bat as he muscled it into left. Good job there, awful decision to keep running. You aren’t Yasiel Puig, stop this now. “Welcome to the Kansas City Royals defense, Nick Castellanos,” is what the Royals broadcast said. Yeah, ok.

-Castellanos had another rookie moment in the seventh inning in a big spot with men at the corners and one out. He went down flailing at Aaron Crow sliders in the dirt that he should just be spitting on. Luckily, the last one was so in the dirt it was a wild pitch and Austin Jackson scored from third and Alex Avila moved into scoring position. He more than made up for it later with arguably the most important hit of the day: a right-center gap single off Wade Davis in the ninth that moved the winning run to third with one out.

-Brad Ausmus had a good day. He did a few things I liked. For one, he kept Joba Chamberlain away from this game. He didn’t pinch hit for anyone. The Tigers bench is weak, there’s no real reason to pinch hit. Ausmus had Castellanos shift over to shallow right field with Mike Moustakas up in the eighth inning. I liked that quite a bit. He also let Tyler Collins run for Avila in the ninth and it paid off big time as he went first-to-third on the Castellanos single and eventually scored the game-winning run. I don’t want to be comparing Ausmus to Jim Leyland all season because despite his flaws I have feelings for Leyland. Baseball feelings. I don’t really have those for Ausmus yet, though I would welcome him into my home on any and every high holy day. So I’ll just whisper this so nobody else can hear me, but Leyland probably doesn’t pinch run for Avila in the ninth. Good work, Brad, you’re undefeated.

-We’ve come this far and I’ve said basically nothing about the performance of Justin Verlander. Not a whole lot to say. He more or less cruised for the first three innings, the fourth was arduous and painful, he couldn’t get Sal Perez out, and he struck out two of 28 batters faced (17 first pitch strikes). Verlander made a nice play in the field to start a double play in the fifth, but on the mound he wasn’t very sharp. Whatever, go get ‘em next time.

Well, that does it. It looked bad for six innings and then it sort of turned into a classic opening day win. They even brought out the “Go Get ‘em Tigers” song after the game and why not? Alex Gonzalez should use it as his walk-up music for the rest of the season after that performance.

About the Daily Smoko: Smoko is an Australian and New Zealand term for a short cigarette break during work. It can also describe a short coffee or tea break. I’m not here to advocate for or against smoking really, I just want to honor Jim Leyland and have you guys read my recaps while you should probably be working.

Follow me on twitter @electricsnuff

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