Monday meant two things to Detroit sport fans. It was the opening game of the season for the Lions (they lost) and the Tigers welcomed home Justin Verlander who they never had the chance to truly say goodbye to. Tiger fans showed class bidding farewell to the former AL MVP and multiple Cy Young Award winner who was traded away suddenly to Houston slightly more than a year ago in a last-second deal. Detroit lost this one, too.
Verlander: 10-K gem
(c) Associated Press
A tribute video greeted Verlander as he walked from the bullpen after finishing pregame warmups. A standing ovation met him in the bottom of the first as he got ready to deliver his first pitch. A more enthusiastic stadium gave him another standing salute after he finished his night with a seven-inning, ten-strikeout masterpiece.
Verlander, who admitted he got all choked up by the events, allowed a run in the second but the Astros roared back with the only three tallies Verlander would need or get.
In the third, former Astro Francisco Liriano walked George Springer who eventually crossed the plate on a wild pitch. Tyler White grounded a single up the middle that plated Alex Bregman and then Marwin Gonzalez lined a base hit to left that drove home White for a 3-1 advantage.
Detroit edged closer in the sixth when Nicholas Castellanos drove in Jeimer Candelario with a sacrifice fly. Verlander would finish with seven innings pitched, allowing two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out ten to notch his club-leading 15th win. Ryan Pressly worked through the eighth before Roberto Osuna closed out with a 1-2-3 ninth for his 16th save.
Houston generated just five hits of their own as White was the only Astro with a multi-hit game, played in the twilight to ease parking woes between Tiger fans and neighboring Lions fans.
Perhaps the second-most awestruck player of the evening was Detroit outfielder Christin Stewart who made his first big league start and got his first major league hit off Verlander - something he'll be able to tell his grandchildren someday.
The middle game of the series will start Tuesday at 5:40 pm Central time with lefty sensation Framber Valdez (3-1) pitching for Houston against veteran Jordan Zimmermann (7-6). Houston now owns a three-game lead over idle Oakland, the second-best record in the American League and have reached 90 wins with 18 left to play.
- Bob Hulsey