This home opener should bring back some fond memories for the Detroit Tigers.
The last time the New York Yankees were in town, Detroit was finishing off a four-game sweep in the 2012 AL championship series.
“Hopefully the weather will be all right, and the people will be fired up,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
The Tigers beat the Yankees in the Division Series in 2011, winning the decisive game in New York. Last year, their postseason series was a mismatch. The Yankees’ offense fell apart, and Detroit wrapped up the American League pennant with an 8-1 win in Game 4.
Since then, the Tigers have added outfielder Torii Hunter and despite some uncertainty in the bullpen, Detroit is a fairly heavy favorite in the AL Central. New York, meanwhile, is trying to stay afloat despite injuries to stars Derek Jeter Alex Rodriguez Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson
New York lost its first two games to Boston at home before 40-year-old Andy Pettitte pitched eight strong innings in a 4-2 win Thursday. Mariano Rivera 43, earned the save in his first appearance of the final season of his storied career.
“Anybody that doesn’t respect the Yankees is a fool, under any circumstances. I can tell you that,” Leyland said.
Detroit’s biggest question coming out of spring training was how the bullpen would perform. The Tigers don’t have a set closer. Phil Coke closed out their win in the season opener, but he lost a lead in the ninth inning Wednesday.
Leyland doesn’t seem eager to push his starters too much early in the season, so the bullpen could be tested on a regular basis. Detroit brought back Jose Valverde on Thursday, but only on a minor league contract.
Valverde lost his job as the Tigers’ closer in the ALCS last year, but Detroit won the series with ease anyway. Right now, the Yankees have enough problems without worrying about avenging last year’s disappointment, but playing the Tigers will be an early challenge.
The Tigers won their home opener last year, beating Boston 3-2 on Austin Jackson’s ninth-inning hit. In fact, they haven’t lost their first home game since 2008, the year they started 0-7 and went on to a disappointing season.
“Opening Day in Detroit is an event, so it’ll be exciting,” catcher Alex Avila said.
The biggest offseason move the Tigers made was signing Hunter to play right field. He’s played at Comerica Park plenty in the past, but now he’ll be a member of the home team.
Hunter had four hits in the opening series at Minnesota, but he hasn’t homered yet. He’s excited for the first home game with his new team.
“It could be crazy. We’ve just got to kind of harness it,” Hunter said. “Don’t get too pumped up and let the adrenaline take over. We’ve got to harness it and play your game.”
Hunter is 1 for 7 with three strikeouts against Nova, who was left off the postseason roster after going 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 28 starts last year. The right-hander failed to build on his 2011 rookie season, when he went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
Nova has faced the Tigers three times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs, making three starts and going 1-2 with a 7.29 ERA overall.
Fister has made four regular-season starts against the Yankees while facing them three times in the playoffs. He’s 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA in the regular-season matchups but 1-1 with a 3.94 ERA in the postseason meetings, including two starts in which the right-hander registered a 0.79 ERA.
Outfielder Brennan Boesch signed by New York last month after Detroit released him, is 7 for 12 with two doubles against Fister, who went 10-10 with a 3.45 ERA last season.