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Liriano lifts Gardenhire to first Tigers win

MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- This time, the Tigers waited through the late-inning replay review without celebrating. But once Nicholas Castellanos corralled Jorge Soler's ninth-inning fly ball to finish off their 6-1 win over the Royals on Monday afternoon, Detroit had its first win of the season, and Ron Gardenhire had his first win as Tigers manager.

As the players shook hands along the Comerica Park infield, Castellanos flipped the ball from the final out to Gardenhire as a memento.

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DETROIT -- This time, the Tigers waited through the late-inning replay review without celebrating. But once Nicholas Castellanos corralled Jorge Soler's ninth-inning fly ball to finish off their 6-1 win over the Royals on Monday afternoon, Detroit had its first win of the season, and Ron Gardenhire had his first win as Tigers manager.

As the players shook hands along the Comerica Park infield, Castellanos flipped the ball from the final out to Gardenhire as a memento.

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"It means a lot to myself and my coaching staff," he said. "We're here for a reason. We want these guys to play the game the right way, and they've been doing that. We've battled our tails off, so to finally get a win is a relief for everybody."

Video: KC@DET: Gardenhire on Liriano's outing in 6-1 victory

Gardenhire won 1,068 regular-season games over 13 seasons with the Twins. Francisco Liriano picked up the victory in 50 of them over his seven seasons in Minnesota. The veteran lefty was a big reason for Gardenhire's first Tigers win Monday, after Gardenhire was a voice of support behind the Tigers signing Liriano early in Spring Training.

"I'm very thankful to the team, the Detroit Tigers and Gardy," Liriano said after his 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball. "They gave me the opportunity to start. That's what I wanted. I still have something in the tank. I can help them win some ballgames and throw a lot of innings this year."

Monday suggested he indeed has something left at age 34. It wasn't just that Liriano pitched deep into the game -- resting a bullpen that had a roller-coaster opening series. It's the way in which he covered those innings.

Liriano not only pitched effectively, but efficiently, lifting a Tigers team playing its third game in two days. This one began in sunny but cold weather, with a first-pitch temperature of 36 degrees. Liriano took the mound in short sleeves and pitched quickly enough to avoid freezing.

"He's got a little more command than he used to back in the day when he was with me," Gardenhire said. "That's just more experience."

Liriano retired the Royals in order only once, but he never allowed multiple baserunners in an inning, either, limiting Kansas City to four hits and two walks. Half of the hits belonged to Alcides Escobar, whose leadoff double in the third set up the Royals' lone run on a Drew Butera sacrifice fly. Escobar's two-out triple in the fifth was the Royals' only other runner in scoring position until Paulo Orlando advanced on defensive indifference with two outs in the ninth.

Video: KC@DET: Tigers on picking up first win of the season

While Liriano's fastball averaged around 92 mph, the difference was his slider. It has always been a wipeout pitch for him, but on Monday, he threw it for nearly twice as many called strikes (nine) as swinging ones (five). It allowed him to work from ahead in the count.

Mike Moustakas took a slider for strike three in a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play to erase a leadoff walk and end the first inning. Soler and Alex Gordon struck out swinging to begin the fifth inning. Escobar's two hits came off fastballs.

Video: KC@DET: Tigers turn strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out DP

"He used his slider and his changeup," catcher James McCann said. "He used both of them very efficiently, and in different counts to different batters. He even threw a couple left-on-left changeups."

When Escobar stepped back to the plate with two outs in the seventh, Gardenhire went to his bullpen, congratulating Liriano as he took the ball. As Liriano walked to the dugout, the fans who braved the chill at Comerica Park stood up and gave him an ovation. Considering how many seasons he spent as a Tiger nemesis for them, it was appreciated.

"It feels great, especially the first game," Liriano said. "Got the first one out of the way."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Free pass haunts Royals: The Royals have seen enough of Miguel Cabrera over the years to not have wanted any part of him with runners on second and third with one out in the fifth. The resulting intentional walk loaded the bases for Castellanos, who singled in a run before Victor Martinez connected on an 0-2 high fastball for a line drive into the gap in right-center to plate his first two RBIs of the season.

Video: KC@DET: V-Mart plates two on a single to right-center

Martin covers Comerica: The Royals hit some fly balls deep to center against Liriano, but Leonys Martin made several running catches to prevent big hits. Soler's second-inning drive to straightaway center sent Martin racing back to just shy of the warning track before making the catch and keeping Orlando on first. The 392-foot drive had a 98 percent Hit Probability, according to Statcast™. Martin also ran down Gordon's lofty fly ball into the gap in right-center with Soler on base for the second out of the seventh inning.

QUOTABLE
"I came over and took this job. I know what this city's all about. I know what this team's all about. So I'm very proud to be a part of it. Now I'm in their history books. I have one win." -- Gardenhire

WHAT'S NEXT
A week after Matthew Boyd closed out the Tigers' Spring Training schedule, the lefty makes his first turn through Detroit's regular-season rotation Tuesday in a 1:10 p.m. ET matinee against the Royals at Comerica Park. Boyd struggled against KC last season with a 6.32 ERA in three starts.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Francisco Liriano