Opening Day is always special in Detroit, where the home opener essentially qualifies as an unofficial state holiday whether you have tickets or not. For some stars, the performance makes it all the more important. Here’s one reporter’s rankings of the five best Opening Day performances in Tigers history:
1) April 4, 2005 -- Dmitri Young hits three home runs vs. Royals
Just two players in Major League history -- George Bell and Tuffy Rhodes -- had recorded a three-homer game on Opening Day before Young stepped to the plate on an unseasonably warm afternoon at Comerica Park (68 degrees!) and heated up. A second-inning solo homer and a third-inning two-run drive off Royals starter and former Tigers teammate Jose Lima was enough to send a sellout crowd into a frenzy as Young rounded the bases with his left flap down. Then came his eighth-inning drive off Mike MacDougal, and the party was on.
2) April 20, 1937 -- Gee Walker hits for cycle
Walker was an underrated hitter in star-studded Tigers lineups in the mid-1930s despite batting .353 with 55 doubles in 1936. He hit behind future Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg to open the '37 season, but he stole the show during a 4-3 win over Cleveland. Walker homered in the second inning, tripled to lead off the fourth, doubled in the fifth and singled in the seventh. He remains the only Major Leaguer to hit for the cycle on Opening Day.
3) April 7, 1986 -- Kirk Gibson goes 4-for-4 with 2 HR, 5 RBIs
Gibson opened the season in an interesting spot even before he took the field at Tiger Stadium against the Red Sox. He just missed out on a 30-homer season in 1985, but he had an acrimonious contract situation with the club. That all was forgotten with an RBI single in the third inning, an upper-deck drive to right-center in the fifth, and a go-ahead shot to the same spot in the seventh.
“He has that flair for the game that others aren’t capable of,” manager Sparky Anderson told reporters after the 6-5 win according to the Detroit Free Press. “He has that certain something inside of him that allows him to come through in situations like today.”
4) April 25, 1901 -- Pop Dillon hits four doubles, collects five RBIs
Not only did Dillon open the season as the Tigers’ first baseman, he was the hero for their first game as a Major League club as part of the upstart American League, hitting a pair of two-run doubles in Detroit’s 10-run ninth-inning rally for a 14-13 win over Milwaukee. His game-winning hit was a drive over left fielder Bill Hallman’s head. Many have matched Dillon’s big league record four doubles in a game, but nobody has passed it yet.
5) April 3, 2006 -- Red Pop homers twice
No, Chris Shelton’s opener wasn’t record-setting or anything, but it jump-started a previously unknown first baseman on a historic 10-homer opening month that proved to be the pinnacle of his big league career. One year after Young’s three-homer feat beat the Royals at Comerica Park, Shelton pounded them at Kauffman Stadium with a fourth-inning drive to the left-field corner and a go-ahead drive to right in the sixth. The solo shots accounted for nearly all of Detroit’s offense in a 3-1 win.
April 5, 2012 -- Verlander goes eight scoreless on two hits
What could Justin Verlander do for an encore after tossing a no-hitter and winning AL MVP and Cy Young Awards in 2011? Shutting down the Red Sox was pretty good. He received MVP chants during pregame introductions, and he did little to dissuade the sellout crowd of 45,027 on a sun-drenched afternoon at Comerica Park. A David Ortiz second-inning double and a Ryan Sweeney fourth-inning single comprised all the hits against Verlander, while a Miguel Cabrera error and an Adrián González walk manufactured Boston's only other scoring chance. Each time, Verlander escaped, stranding Ortiz on third with a third strike on Cody Ross and stranding both runners in the sixth when Ortiz swung and missed at an offspeed pitch. Verlander struck out seven batters, four of them on breaking balls for called third strikes. He fanned three consecutive batters two separate times. He left with a 2-0 lead that vanished in the ninth, but the Tigers rallied in the bottom half for a 3-2 victory.