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Valued moment from Verlander, Ellsbury

Right off the bat, a little history

The American League’s best squared off to start the game, as MVP Justin Verlander pitches to runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury. The American League’s best squared off to start the game, as MVP Justin Verlander pitches to runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 6, 2012
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DETROIT - When Jacoby Ellsbury came to the plate in the top of the first inning Thursday to face Justin Verlander, they made a little baseball history.

Verlander became the first pitcher to win the Most Valuable Player award to start the following season by facing the runner-up.

“It was pretty neat to be a part of that,’’ said Ellsbury, who popped to left field.

Verlander was 24-5 with a 2.40 earned run average last season. He received 13 of a possible 28 first-place votes and finished well ahead of Ellsbury, who had four first-place votes.

Ellsbury had a remarkable 2011, hitting .321 with 32 home runs, 39 steals, 105 RBIs, and 119 runs. He was 0 for 4 in Thursday’s 3-2 loss, all against Verlander.

“I knew early in spring that was a possibility,’’ Ellsbury said. “But it’s not something you think about when you’re in the box.’’

Verlander pitched eight shutout innings, allowing two hits. He did not get a decision. Verlander is 0-1 in five Opening Day starts.

The game marked the first time the Red Sox faced the reigning MVP on Opening Day since 1914. Walter Johnson of the Senators, who won the now-defunct Chalmers Award, picked up the victory that day.

Good sign

Count David Ortiz as being encouraged by the Red Sox scoring two runs in the ninth inning when they were down, 2-0.

“We kept on fighting,’’ said Ortiz, who had a sacrifice fly. “Even losing the first game, I liked the attitude. I liked what I saw from everybody.’’

Ortiz was 1 for 3 with one RBI. The Sox are off on Friday before playing at 4:05 p.m. on Saturday. It’ll be a long time to think about that first loss.

“Like I told everyone after the game, come back on Saturday and play,’’ Ortiz said. “We’re not going home.

“That’s how it is, man. You can’t look back. You have to come back with the same attitude and keep on playing the game. It was a good game.’’

Ortiz has started nine Opening Days for the Red Sox, the most on the current team and the most for any Sox DH. Ortiz and Cleveland’s Travis Hafner have started nine consecutive Opening Days as DH. The record of 10 was set by Seattle’s Edgar Martinez from 1995-2004.

Flyin’ Francona

Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona was on hand to call the game for ESPN. It was strange to see him in a suit before the game waiting to get into Bobby Valentine’s office with his ESPN colleagues. He did not venture into the clubhouse.

Francona has a busy schedule. He, Dan Shulman, and Orel Hershiser were in Miami on Wednesday night to see the Cardinals-Marlins game, flew overnight to Detroit, and on Friday will be in Anaheim. After a day off on Saturday, they’ll have the game in Texas on Sunday.

“It has been a lot of fun,’’ Francona said.

Tuning up

Daniel Bard stayed behind at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers (“It was a ghost town,’’ he said) to pitch in a minor league intrasquad game on Wednesday. He faced a group of Gulf Coast League prospects for four innings.

“It was good for my confidence,’’ Bard joked.

The game was a final preparation before Bard faces the Blue Jays in Toronto on Tuesday.

Leaning to the left

Valentine used lefthanded hitters Adrian Gonzalez and Ortiz back to back in the lineup with the righthanded Verlander on the mound for the Tigers. “That grouping today is just based on the starting pitcher that we’re facing today,’’ Valentine said . . . Valentine was asked what he learned about the team during spring training. “It’s hard for me to tell what I know now and I didn’t know then. Obviously, you all know me, I knew it all before I even got the job,’’ he cracked. “I’ve been a little surprised at some of the guys who were signed as non-roster players and how well they looked and how well they fit in. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by many of the things that I’ve seen. I haven’t been disappointed at all, if that means anything.’’

Drawing a crowd

The game drew a sold-out crowd of 45,027, the largest for an Opening Day at Comerica Park in its 13 seasons and the second largest for a regular-season game . . . Valentine had pregame praise for Tigers owner Mike Ilitch spending the money to sign Prince Fielder. “Being here in Detroit and seeing what Mr. Ilitch is trying to do around this area and for the city of Detroit, I think spending money on his team to make this city feel proud of something is a fabulous, fabulous effort,’’ Valentine said . . . Red Sox owner John Henry reached out before the game to wish Valentine well . . . Valentine was happy to see his old friend and mentor Lou Lamoriello on Wednesday night at the team hotel. Lamoriello is the general manager of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, who were in town to play the Red Wings Thursday night. “It’s was an amazing thing,’’ Valentine said. “Kind of cool.’’ . . . Valentine and Tigers manager Jim Leyland faced each other for the first time since Sept. 15, 1999, when Valentine was with the Mets and Leyland with the Rockies . . . The Red Sox are 54-57-1 in their first game of the season . . . Detroit remains the only team in the American League never to lose to Jon Lester, who has faced the Tigers only four times in his career.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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