With Jose Iglesias out for most of the year because of stress fractures in both shins, the shortstop position is a huge question mark for the defending American League Central champion Tigers. On Opening Day, however, 37-year-old Alex Gonzalez gave Detroit the solution it has been looking for, overshadowing a fourth-inning error by delivering the game-tying triple in the seventh and the game-winning single in the 10th to give the Tigers a 4-3 win.
The Royals overcame a second-inning solo home run by Detroit's Victor Martinez with a three-run fourth inning against an uncharacteristically wild Justin Verlander (three walks in the frame) and took that 3-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh. Outside of the Martinez homer, Kansas City starter James Shields had been impressive to that point, allowing just three other hits and walking none. When Martinez flew out to right to start the bottom of the seventh, Shields had gotten 14 of the last 16 batters he had faced to hit into outs, and one of the exceptions, Tigers rookie Nick Castellanos, had run into an out trying to stretch a single into a double to open the fifth.
However, on Shield's 101st pitch, Austin Jackson crushed a stand-up triple into the left-centerfield gap. Shields then walked Alex Avila on four pitches and yielded to reliever Aaron Crow. Crow struck out Castellanos for the second out of the inning, but the last pitch of that at-bat bounced away from catcher Salvador Perez (who was 4-for-4 at the plate in the game), allowing Jackson to score and Avlia to move to second. That brought up Gonzalez, who was 0-for-2 to that point but delivered his first hit as a Tiger and his first triple since April 3, 2011, tying the score at 3-3.
With the game still tied in the bottom of the ninth and Wade Davis on the hill for Kansas City, Avila drew another one-out walk. That put the potential winning run on base in the form of pinch-runner Tyler Collins, who was making his major league debut. Castellanos followed with a ringing single to right-center that sent Collins to third. That brought up Gonzalez, who had made a nice diving stop for the final out of the top of the eighth, to face Greg Holland. The Royals' best reliever threw four pitches. Gonzalez smoked the last one past drawn-in shortstop Alcides Escobar to plate Collins with the winning run.
[mlbvideo id="31723399" width="600" height="360" /] Gonzalez's Tigers career may be all downhill from here, but he has already exceeded expectations.