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Tigers freeze up late, drop opener to Yanks 6-3

New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Thursday, March 31, 2011, at Yankee Stadium in New York. New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Thursday, March 31, 2011, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
By Mike Fitzpatrick
AP Sports Writer / March 31, 2011

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NEW YORK—As soon as Justin Verlander was done for the day, the Detroit Tigers froze up.

Verlander held the New York Yankees in check for six innings, throwing 114 pitches in short sleeves on a frigid afternoon, but Phil Coke served up a tiebreaking homer to ex-Tiger Curtis Granderson in the seventh and Detroit dropped its season opener 6-3 on Thursday.

"I just felt absolutely not right. Nothing else to blame but myself," said Coke, scheduled to move into the rotation April 9. "You've got to do your job. I didn't do my job today. I'm irritated with myself because of it."

Third baseman Brandon Inge, normally a reliable fielder, committed a costly throwing error, and a pair of wild pitches by young relievers Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth led to insurance runs for New York.

Victor Martinez singled in his first at-bat for Detroit, helping his new team build an early run, and Miguel Cabrera hit a sacrifice fly and scored twice. But by the time Mariano Rivera closed it out for a save, the final 10 Tigers hitters had been retired by New York's imposing bullpen.

"Their bullpen and the long ball is what did us in today," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought it was actually a decent game for the conditions. It was pretty rough."

Granderson, traded to the Yankees in a December 2009 deal that sent Coke and Austin Jackson to Detroit, also made two terrific plays in center and homered in his third consecutive opener.

Jackson, coming off a strong rookie season, struck out three times in the leadoff spot. He also singled and scored.

Coke (0-1) was brought in to face Granderson in a lefty-on-lefty matchup to start the bottom of the seventh. Coke fell behind 2-0 and Granderson drove the next pitch into the second deck in right.

"Couldn't throw a strike until he hit it out of the yard," Coke said.

Said Leyland: "He just got behind Granderson and left no doubt what was coming."

With the flags above the lights in right field whipping toward the foul pole, Mark Teixeira connected off Verlander for a three-run shot in the third.

"It was a fastball in. He did a pretty good job of turning on it. Not too many hitters can do that," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said.

Slimmed down by 25 pounds after having surgery on his right knee this winter, Yankees starter CC Sabathia gave up six hits and three runs -- two earned -- in six innings. Making his third opening day start in three seasons with New York, Sabathia struck out seven and walked two.

Joba Chamberlain (1-0), Rafael Soriano and Rivera each pitched a perfect inning.

"We've got to score early in the game," Cabrera said. "They're tough."

Verlander was making his fourth straight opening day start, most for the Tigers since Jack Morris went 10 in a row (1980-90). He was hoping to get off to a quick start after going 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA last year in April before finishing 18-9, and he altered his offseason workout routine to help accomplish that.

"Obviously, coming out of the spring that I had, this is not the result that I wanted," Verlander said. "I felt pretty calm considering opening day, Yankee Stadium -- it's hard to keep your adrenaline in check."

The right-hander reached 97 mph on the radar gun in the first, but walked Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez before striking out Robinson Cano with his 31st pitch of the inning.

Verlander gave up just two other hits, including Rodriguez's one-out double in the sixth that hit the fence in right-center just above the 385-foot marker. He walked Cano, but struck out Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada with two deceptive changeups.

"I'm trying to change things around in April. Last April I wore long sleeves," Verlander said. "The only issue when I felt it was really cold on my body was coming out of the dugout. They have heaters in there."

Jhonny Peralta drove in his first run of the month. After going without an RBI in 66 spring at-bats, he hit a sacrifice fly in his first plate appearance to give Detroit the lead in the second inning.

Cabrera lined a single and Martinez hit a hot shot to shortstop that Derek Jeter couldn't corral. The ball squirted into center for a base hit. Sabathia walked the bases loaded before Peralta flied out.

"We did center some balls pretty good off CC, especially early," Leyland said. "We didn't have a lot of luck with it."

Detroit closed to 3-2 on Inge's two-out single in the fourth and tied it on Cabrera's sacrifice fly in the fifth.

NOTES: The last time these teams met on opening day in New York was 1966, with the Tigers winning 2-1. ... Mike Mussina threw out the ceremonial first pitch. ... The Tigers failed to homer for the first time in eight games at the new Yankee Stadium.

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