It started out as paper airplanes coming down from the right-field stands, then a golf ball near Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez. Once a couple baseballs nearly hit left fielder Josh Anderson in the bottom of the eighth inning, the umpiring crew called the Tigers off the field, starting an eventual nine-minute delay in the Blue Jays' 12-5 win.
"There were thousands of great fans here tonight. There's a couple others that have to get into the act," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who pointed out the first baseball to home-plate umpire and crew chief Ed Montague. "That's just the way it is. That happens. But you can't endanger any players. You just can't do it. It's no big deal."
Nonetheless, it's a rarity over the years. Montague said he's seen it just a handful of times in his 34 seasons of umpiring.
The Tigers usually attract a sizeable number of fans from Michigan and the western half of Ontario whenever they're in Toronto. Opening Day, however, was a decidedly Blue Jays crowd as expected, and the fans made their presence known. They were vocal in their support of the home team, and Detroit's corner outfielders heard it from them most of the evening.
"They started throwing those paper airplanes," Ordonez said, "then they started throwing those little [golf] balls. But on the left-field side, they were throwing the real baseballs."
The escalation to baseballs didn't happen until later in the game. Detroit crept within 9-5 before the Jays erased any question with three runs in the eighth. One of the runs scored on Adam Lind's bases-loaded single to center. Curtis Granderson's throw home temporarily prevented another run from scoring, but after Granderson threw, he noticed another baseball right nearby him.
"I turned around and saw the ball next to me, and it was rolling," Granderson said. "I thought it originally came from the bullpen, then I looked and said, 'Wait a minute, it came from the other way.' Josh said, 'Hey, this came from the stands.'"
That ball came close to Anderson. Granderson gave it to him, and he gave it to second-base umpire Tony Randazzo, who brought it to Montague's attention. One member of the umpiring crew said they also retrieved a AA-sized battery from the right-field corner that inning.
"With the ball coming close to Anderson in the outfield, I had my mind made up," Montague said. "If they came out with some stuff like that again, I was going to pull the team."
Two batters later, another baseball came down from left, this one coming closer to Anderson.
"Both of them were pretty close for me to hear them," said Anderson, who will certainly remember his first Opening Day in the Major Leagues. "I really didn't think much about it the first time. It's a baseball, but if it hits you in the head, it can do some damage coming from the upper deck. The second one, I was like, 'Well, that's enough.'"
More importantly, it was enough for the managers and the umpiring crew.
"It comes to the point where somebody's going to get hurt real bad," Montague said. "So in the best interests of the game and the best interests of the players, the message is to pull them off. That might send a bigger message to [the fans]."
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston understood.
"I've never seen that here before," he said. "I apologize to the Detroit players. A couple of those balls came pretty close to hitting those kids out there. Leyland, who is a class act to me, he came over and said, 'I don't want to rain on your parade. You guys have had a good night, but I don't want my guys hurt.' I told him, 'Hey, I'd do the same thing. I'd take my guys off the field, too.'"
The delay came largely in getting a statement ready to announce to the fans over the public address system. The announcer warned fans that throwing items onto the field violated Major League rules and could result not only in arrest, but in possible forfeiture of the game if it continued. Montague consulted with Leyland and Gaston, and brought the Tigers back out to finish the inning.
"The main thing is the ballplayers, and keeping them safe," Montague said. "I've been on the field before, where they've thrown batteries. It's very rare."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.