Pair of Prince homers power Tigers in home opener
After Fister allows dinger, Fielder puts Detroit ahead, then pads lead
DETROIT -- The Tigers spent three games in Minnesota looking for a big hit. They came home Friday to find two of them in a familiar place from a familiar face.
This is what the Tigers' collection of power bats can do, turn a season-opening hitting slump into a blip. They couldn't find that big hit over three chilly afternoons in Minnesota, Prince Fielder included. It wasn't that much warmer in Detroit, but it felt borderline balmy by the time Fielder's second home run of the afternoon carried the Tigers on their way to an 8-3 win over the Yankees before the largest home opener crowd in Comerica Park history.
"Hitting is contagious in general," said Alex Avila, who added a tape-measure solo homer in between Fielder's fifth- and seventh-inning drives.
It didn't spark a scoring binge, the go-ahead three-run homer Fielder drove just over the right-field railing and off a fan's head. The only hits in between his home runs were Avila's no-doubt drive in the sixth and an ensuing single from Austin Jackson. Yet by changing the scoreboard, it changed the feeling.
The Tigers didn't need a barrage of hits to turn this game, just like they didn't need many in three games at Minnesota. One did the trick.
Asked how much one game like that can carry over, Fielder shrugged.
"A lot, I hope," Fielder said. "That's the plan."
Those hits aren't necessarily contagious for Fielder, though it marked his 25th career multi-homer game and third in just over a season with the Tigers. He said he tries not to linger on at-bats, one side or the other. If he did, he might have had a tougher afternoon.
Not only did Twins pitching hold the Tigers to three doubles for their only extra-base hits in their season-opening series, but Detroit had yet to drive in multiple runs with a hit. Fielder was one of the Tigers who had a chance Thursday before Twins lefty Tyler Robertson struck him out on a close checked swing with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a one-run game.
From there, the Twins pulled away, making a close contest unrecognizable by the end.
"Fortunately in baseball, you can make it up the next day," Fielder said. "That's the beauty of it. It's obviously not the best feeling at the time, but you can do it tomorrow."
If anything was a spark for Fielder on Friday, it might have been the out that preceded the home runs. He hit a screaming drive to right field in the fourth inning that sent former Tiger Brennan Boesch crashing into the right-field fence to make the catch as Fielder froze along the first-base line.
Fielder claims he didn't feel he was getting his swing locked in at that point. His teammates might have had other ideas.
"You try to forget each at-bat whether you do good or bad, just because you have another at-bat," Fielder said. "I just knew that at-bat, I hit it hard. In some way, you have to find some positive out of it, even though you're out."
He didn't get another shot against Yankees starter Ivan Nova. The right-hander was out when he hit Miguel Cabrera with a pitch at the bottom of his left hand, extending the fifth inning with two runners on and the Tigers down one after Kevin Youkilis' two-run homer in the top of the inning.
Like the Twins before, the Yankees tried to set up the lefty-lefty scenario by going to southpaw Boone Logan, who had held Fielder to a single in six career at-bats over the last two seasons, including last year's American League Championship Series.
Unlike Robertson on Thursday, Logan missed with a slider, and he did not catch Fielder off guard with a fastball after that.
"I threw him a first pitch with a slider, and I was trying to go down and away with a heater," Logan said. "The pitch was way out of the zone, but it looks like he was sitting hard and he was able to get to it."
Manager Jim Leyland has seen that before. After Fielder struck out Thursday, he said he'd take his chances getting those situations all year, even lefty against lefty. It worked in his favor Friday.
"Particularly with power hitters, you never know when they're going to explode," Leyland said. "They can explode at any time. But Prince Fielder's an outstanding hitter. He's a better pure hitter than I thought he was."
Fielder's 31st home run as a Tiger was the 11th go-ahead homer in the bunch.
"I wouldn't say we were down, but it was right after Youkilis hit that home run and it's like, 'OK, we have to grind it out,'" Avila said. "Boom, he hits that home run and all of a sudden we're up again. That kind of gets you going."
Avila's no-doubt drive to right field padded the lead before Cabrera walked leading off the seventh. Fielder got a hanging slider from Kelley and skied it deep to right.
"It's like we were in a competition to see who could hit it the farthest," Avila said. "It's like I'm losing every time."
More importantly for Avila, the Tigers were not. The rally made a winner out of Doug Fister, who battled through the command problems that plagued him in Spring Training to last five innings. All three runs came in the fifth, one on a wild pitch before Youkilis hit his two-run homer.
Drew Smyly took the bullpen-by-committee scenario out of play by pitching the last four innings, earning the first four-inning save by a Tiger since Esteban Yan in 2004.