03/31/08 7:38 PM ET
Pena delivers win in extras
Shortstop's 11th-inning single drives in Buck with winning run
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
The Royals, in Hillman's debut as manager, fought from behind and defeated the Detroit Tigers in 11 innings, 5-4, in the season opener as a Comerica Park record crowd of 44,934 watched.
Most of them were disappointed, though, when Tony Pena's looping single drove in John Buck with the deciding run in the 11th.
"I'm very impressed with what we were able to do," Hillman said. "Nobody panicked in the dugout."
Calm prevailed even though the Tigers gave hard-throwing Justin Verlander an early 3-0 lead. Even though Carlos Guillen's home run wiped out a 4-3 Royals lead in the eighth. And even though a tiebreaking run was cut down in the 11th.
None of that mattered in the end.
Mark Teahen opened the 11th by drawing a walk off reliever Denny Bautista, an ex-Royals right-hander who was reaching 99 mph on the radar gun. Ross Gload bunted Teahen to second.
Perfect. Hillman's adherence to a fundamental approach was working nicely. Buck smacked a single that rolled to center fielder Brandon Inge and, on cue, Teahen raced for home.
Not so fast. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez snagged Inge's on-target throw, and Teahen was out. Two down, now what?
"Bautista was throwing pretty hard as I was looking up at the radar," Pena noted, "so I was just trying to find a good pitch to put into play. I got a good pitch and dropped it in there."
Yep, a dying quail. This time Inge had no chance to throw with Buck flying for home.
"Rumbling," Buck corrected. "Whatever it was, it worked."
The one-run lead held when closer Joakim Soria -- with help from third baseman Alex Gordon -- shut things down.
Clete Thomas, in his first Major League at-bat, led off the Tigers' 11th with a double and was sacrificed to third by Inge. But there he stayed. Soria struck out Edgar Renteria and Placido Polanco's shot was stabbed by Gordon, who leaped up and threw him out.
That was appropriate because it was Gordon who got the Royals going in the sixth inning with a two-run homer, their first runs of the season.
The Tigers went ahead of Gil Meche, 3-0, when Miguel Cabrera's leadoff homer in the fifth had the fans roaring for the newest addition to their heavily hyped lineup.
Verlander was in charge early. He allowed just one single in the first five innings. Then Mark Grudzielank slapped a single and Gordon connected.
"Not much was stacked up in our favor before the game started," Buck said. "But it's going to be like this all year for us."
Gordon's long ball kicked the Royals into gear. Meche responded with a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth.
Verlander started the seventh by giving up a walk to Teahen and a single to Gload. Then he was gone, lifted by Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
Three relievers were waved in by Leyland before the inning was over, but both runners scored -- on singles by Buck and Grudzielanek. The Royals were up 4-3 until Guillen cracked his home run off reliever Brett Tomko.
This, after all, was the snarling Tigers.
"It's a daunting lineup," Hillman said. "They've got a lot of talent in this lineup and that's one of the big reasons a lot of prognosticators say they're going to win the World Series."
Yet Leo Nunez stymied the daunting lineup for two innings, and Soria stopped them at the end.
"Nunez was probably the unsung star of the game," Leyland said. "When he throws strikes and commands the ball that way, he's tough."
The Royals won their first extra-inning opener since 1972.
"To do it against Verlander and Detroit makes it all that much sweeter," Buck said. "You've got to play a good baseball game to beat 'em."
Hillman had one victory in the books in one try.
"We played the game the way Trey wanted us to, and, hopefully, we can just keep that rolling," said David DeJesus. "It looks great, it looks great."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.