Shelton, Rogers lift Tigers past KC

Shelton, Rogers lift Tigers past KC

KANSAS CITY -- Joel Zumaya heard his name called to enter the game and thought, "Holy smoke!"

Funny, the Royals had a similar reaction.

After Chris Shelton homered down both foul lines, the 21-year-old Zumaya followed 41-year-old Kenny Rogers' sub-80 mph offspeed pitches with 100-mph fastballs in his Major League debut. The Tigers opened their 2006 season at the extremes on Monday, and it had them going in a good direction at game's end with a 3-1 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

"Very good ballgame," manager Jim Leyland said, upon his first win leading the only team he knew for the first 19 years of his pro baseball career. "The team played well. We got some good pitching. We just got a few more hits, and ours managed to go over the fence."

Shelton's first career multi-homer game came on what was a big day for him, too. He spent the entire 2004 season on the Major League roster as a Rule 5 Draft pick, then was a big-league regular for just over half of last season. This, however, was his first season opener in the starting lineup.

"The one two years ago, I was kind of in awe of everything," Shelton said. "This was a lot more special to be in the lineup on Opening Day. I'll never forget it."

It became a display of his ability to hit for power to all fields. Rogers and Royals starter Scott Elarton kept the game scoreless through three innings before Elarton hung a slider to Shelton with one out in the top of the fourth. Shelton lined it into the left-field seats.

When Shelton stepped back to the plate two innings later, Elarton (0-1) had an opposite approach. Shelton still took advantage, poking a low fastball down the right-field line and just inside the foul pole to put the Tigers back ahead.

Shelton's first career two-homer game marked the second consecutive year that a Tigers hitter has opened the season with a multi-homer effort. Dmitri Young powered last year's opener with three home runs.

Shelton just missed a four-hit game when Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek made a leaping grab on a sharp liner up the middle in the eighth. Those are the kind of hits Shelton looks for.

"That's never my goal," Shelton said of home runs. "My goal is to stay in the middle of the field. It's not going to change. I just want to continue hitting balls in the gap and hit the ball hard. Whatever happens, happens."

He happened to provide just enough support for Rogers (1-0). The Tigers' oldest Opening Day pitcher ever and oldest to start any game since Wild Bill Donovan in 1918, Rogers battled off the lingering effects of a flu bug he had last week to retire the first six batters he faced and finish off his final seven batters in order. He scattered a run on three hits, struck out five and walked no one.

"I had decent command," Rogers said. "Everybody knows how I pitch, but do I command the strike zone? That's just my game the whole time."

The lone piece of damage against Rogers came in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1, following Shelton's homer. David DeJesus hit a leadoff double and advanced on a Grudzielanek groundout, but seemed set to be stranded once Rogers induced Mike Sweeney into a first-pitch, check-swing comebacker for the second out.

Reggie Sanders battled in a 2-2 count until Rogers challenged him with a fastball. Sanders laced it into left field for an RBI single.

"I threw sinkers away, changeups, and he kept fouling balls," Rogers said. "I figured at some point you have to go after him."

That was the last baserunner Rogers allowed. Once he finished after six innings, he gave way to Zumaya, the much-anticipated starter turned reliever whose first big-league game came in a one-run affair.

Zumaya said before the game that he didn't have any jitters. Once he got up to warm up, the feeling was a bit different.

When he first came out for the seventh, his fastball was about the only pitch working for him. He hit the upper 90s repeatedly but couldn't locate his offspeed pitches. He issued a leadoff walk to Sweeney, his first batter, when he missed on a fastball that registered 100 mph on the stadium radar gun, 101 on the Royals telecast.

Zumaya tries not to look at the readings, but he usually can't help himself. "I saw it at 100," he said.

From there, he settled down, betraying his age and abundance of adrenaline. He set down Sanders swinging at a 99-mph fastball spotted on the outside corner. He set up Emil Brown with three straight 98-mph fastballs before spotting back-to-back offspeed pitches, dropping the last one on the inside edge for a called third strike.

Doug Mientkiewicz hit a fastball for a single, putting Sweeney in scoring position, but Zumaya retired the next four batters he faced.

"It just pumps me up really good," Zumaya said. "I couldn't locate my pitches any better than I did today."

Carlos Guillen's eighth-inning solo homer cushioned the lead for Zumaya, who tossed two scoreless innings with three strikeouts. He topped 100 mph twice on the stadium radar gun and once more on the Royals telecast.

Fernando Rodney earned his first save of the year in place of the injured Todd Jones. With that, the Tigers presented Leyland with his first managerial win since a season-ending, 9-8 Rockies win over the Giants on Oct. 3, 1999. In the process, they earned some memories of their own.

"I think it's going to be the greatest day of my life until I'm married and my children are born," Zumaya said, "and that's not close to happening yet."

Jason Beck is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.