DETROIT – The revamped Detroit Tigers stormed back to earn a thrilling walk-off victory over the division-rival Chicago White Sox on Opening Day at Comerica Park.
There was an air of excitement ahead of first pitch, as the Tigers’ starting lineup featured two new stars -- Austin Meadows and Javier Baez -- a new starting pitcher in Eduardo Rodriguez, and top prospect Spencer Torkelson.
But Rodriguez’s Tigers career got off to a rocky start. He needed 31 pitches just to get through the first inning and issued back-to-back walks with two outs to set the table for an Eloy Jimenez dribbler that scored the first run.
Another two-out rally burned Rodriguez in the second. After the first two batters were retired, Jake Burger slapped a double down the right field line and A.J. Pollock drove him in with a single. Luis Robert followed with a double to score Pollock a few moments later.
Rodriguez lasted just four innings, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks while striking out just two batters.
Drew Hutchison relieved Rodriguez and gave the Tigers two scoreless innings, allowing just two hits.
Jeimer Candelario finally got the Tigers on the board in the bottom of the sixth with a full-count base hit into right-center field. It came after Robbie Grossman got hit by a pitch and Meadows drew a walk to lead off the inning.
The Tigers could have scored another run that inning on a fielder’s choice, but Candelario was called for interference on a slide at second base. As a result, Cabrera’s RBI grounder turned into a de facto double play.
Immediately after the Tigers got on the board, Alex Lange came out of the pen for an important shutdown inning. He allowed a one-out single, but no further damage.
In the following frame, Jacob Barnes retired the White Sox in order, needing just 12 pitches.
The Tigers put together a rally in the eighth inning when Grossman singled and Meadows drew his third walk of the game with one out. Baez followed with his first hit in a Tigers uniform -- a single dumped in front of Jimenez in left field to load the bases.
After Candelario was called out on a borderline 2-2 pitch, White Sox manager Tony La Russa opted to bring in closer Liam Hendriks for the final out of the inning.
But Cabrera greeted Hendriks with a first-pitch bloop single that dropped into right-center field at a crisp 79.4 mph to tie the game. Akil Baddoo grounded out to third to strand the bases loaded.
Two batters later, Gregory Soto served up a mammoth home run to Andrew Vaughn, and the White Sox took the lead right back.
The Tigers had a little more magic left. Eric Haase, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, crushed a 3-2 fastball from Hendriks over the left-field fence to tie the game.
Meadows kept the rally alive with a two-out triple, and Baez delivered the walk-off hit just over Pollock’s glove and off the right-field fence. It took a replay review to send Tigers players dancing on the field with a 5-4 win.