DETROIT (AP)—Money can’t buy wins. Just ask the Detroit Tigers.
Tony Pena Jr. hit a two-out, tiebreaking single in the 11th inning and the frugal Kansas City Royals held on to beat the big-spending Tigers 5-4 in Monday’s opener and give Trey Hillman a win in his major league debut as manager.
Detroit closer Todd Jones said a team’s payroll is “totally” irrelevant on any given day.
“But the beauty of baseball is it’s all about the long haul, not one game,” Jones said. “Hopefully with the kind of talent we have, we’ll find a way to grind out more wins than other people.”
Hillman made the right moves and his players executed in the field to rally from a three-run deficit and hold off a late comeback.
“This is pretty cool for me,” said Hillman, who was successful as a manager in Japan. “It’s a great honor, it’s humbling.”
The Tigers will spend about $138 million on their star-studded team, putting them in the pack with Boston and the New York Mets—behind only the Yankees.
Kansas City, meanwhile, will try to compete with a payroll of approximately $58 million—ranking among the smallest.
“I don’t think we’ll win most of the time just because our payroll is big,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “We just left some guys on base and we left a couple pitches up.”
The Tigers stranded 10 runners, including Clete Thomas, who was on third base with only one out in the 11th.
Joakim Soria got out of the jam and earned the save by striking out Edgar Renteria and getting help from third baseman Alex Gordon, who snared Placido Polanco’s grounder in the hole and threw him out.
“We had one of the best hitters in baseball up with a man on third and two outs the last inning,” Leyland said. “I’ll take that situation every time.”
“This is just Game 1 of many, you can’t get too upset about it,” Verlander said.
Leo Nunez (1-0) threw two hitless innings.
“He was probably the unsung star of the game,” Leyland said.
Trailing 3-0, Gordon hit a two-run home run in the sixth and the Royals scored two more while facing four pitchers in the seventh.
Leyland raved about the 24-year-old Gordon, who impressed him last year as a rookie.
“This guy is a big-time player waiting to happen,” Leyland said. “He’s got a tremendous swing. I think he’ll be a star in this league before it’s over with. That’s why he was a No. 1 player.”
Carlos Guillen helped send the game into extra innings with a solo shot in the eighth.
The game drew a Comerica Park record crowd of 44,934, breaking the mark set in last year’s opener thanks in part to 778 new seats that were added to satisfy some of the growing demand.
The fans were in a good mood until Detroit’s ace got into trouble.
Verlander didn’t give up a hit for 3 2-3 innings in his first opening-day start, but finished with a shaky line: four runs, four hits and six strikeouts over six-plus innings.
“Verlander’s a great pitcher, so you just have to stay patient and try to get something you can hit,” Gordon said.
Verlander was replaced after he gave up a leadoff walk and a single in the seventh.
Todd Jones pitched a perfect ninth and Bautista followed in the 10th.
“The focus will be on our bullpen if we lose. If we win, it won’t,” Leyland said. “But I don’t think that was a major factor today.”
Gil Meche, making his second straight opening-day start, allowed three runs, eight hits, four walks and struck out five over six innings.
“It was good to see Gil stick with it and keep battling,” Hillman said. “He made a couple mistakes, just like any starter does, but he showed me a lot of guts.”
Brett Tomko followed and gave up one run over two innings, Nunez followed in the ninth.
CF David DeJesus aggravated his sprained right ankle, leading Kansas City to pinch-hit for him in the third, and X-rays were negative. … Detroit DH Gary Sheffield started his 20th straight opening day—the longest active streak. … The 11-inning game was Detroit’s longest on opening day since 1960. … Thomas made his major league debut. … Miss America Kirsten Haglund, a 19-year-old native of suburban Detroit, sang the national anthem, “God Bless America,” and threw the ceremonial first pitch for a strike. … Grudzielanek had three hits.