Galarraga shines in home opener

Galarraga shines in home opener

DETROIT -- It couldn't have been a much better day for the Tigers to return to Comerica Park. It was as even better day for Armando Galarraga.

After worrying all week about snow and cold for his home-opener assignment, he arrived at the ballpark Friday to find sunny skies and 50-degree temperatures awaiting him. The Tigers offense that struggled to put up big numbers in Toronto found its stride back on this side of the border and almost matched its scoring total from its previous four games combined. The sellout crowd that could've been tough on a struggling squad came to the park ready for a win.

Galarraga also watched Miguel Cabrera put up a grand slam, three hits and six more RBIs.

And with seven innings of solid pitching in the 15-2 victory over the Rangers, Galarraga not only became the first pitcher to shut down the mighty Texas offense, he gave the Rangers another reminder that they made a bad move in trading him.

OK, maybe he's past the last part.

"No, this is over," Galarraga said after the game. "Last year was probably more special, because I wanted to show the guys they lost something good. It's over."

It might be over, but it isn't forgotten. Galarraga, however, chooses to remember it now in a good way.

For all the fireworks Detroit's offense provided in its first double-digit outburst of the year, erasing the bitter taste of three losses in four games to the Jays, Galarraga's performance was arguably as big of a statement. He earned the home-opener assignment partly as a reward for his 13-win season last year, but he entered the year facing questions over whether he could do it again, or whether his season was a fluke.

It's one start and nothing is guaranteed to come, but at least the fluke part seems to be answered. A Rangers team that scored 29 runs over a three-game sweep of Cleveland managed a one run off Galarraga on a bloop single, and he was disappointed he gave up that much.

"That's one of the better offenses in baseball, there's no question about that," manager Jim Leyland said. "That's not easy to do what he did today. It was a tremendous, tremendous performance, and that's pitching. That's what we call pitch-ability."

By pitch-ability, Leyland means the ability to execute pitches that hitters that don't expect and never allow them to get their balance. The fact that it was Galarraga doing it is something few would've expected out of the young starter a year ago.

None of the Rangers' five hits went for extra bases, and nothing they hit was particularly hard. Making contact was tough enough over the first five innings, with six strikeouts among 17 batters, including stars Ian Kinsler and Michael Young. Galarraga threw sliders with enough bite that few were hit solidly, and he used the inside part of the plate liberally.

Galarraga sent down 10 Rangers in an 11-batter stretch from the second inning through the fifth. Five went down by strikeout. Only Young got the ball out of the infield in that stretch. Not until Hank Blalock's blooper to center with two outs in the sixth did the Rangers finally get on the scoreboard, plating Elvis Andrus.

"He used all his pitches," Leyland said. "He threw changeups in fastball counts. He threw breaking balls in fastball counts. He threw fastballs in breaking-ball counts. He had command of the strike zone. That was a stellar pitching performance. That's what a pitcher's supposed to look like."

That's what Galarraga wants his pitches to look like. It was the best he thinks he has ever thrown his breaking ball, and it was another step of improvement for his changeup.

"The changeup is better and better," Galarraga said, "and it's going to be the key to this year, making it better than last year."

He worked on it in the offseason. For that matter, he worked quite a bit, trying to duplicate his work from last year. That's the legacy he thinks the Rangers have left him.

Galarraga won't forget the brief stint he had with the Rangers down the stretch in 2007, struggling in a couple relief appearances and one start. The Rangers took him off the 40-man roster that winter for Jason Jennings, prompting the trade to the Tigers just before Spring Training last year. By then, however, Galarraga had long since been working to prove a point.

"When I got called up and worked in the bullpen and didn't throw for five days -- and threw one inning and got hit -- when the season [was] over, I said, 'If I want to keep going in baseball, I need to work to get a hundred times better, to make me a better pitcher,'" Galarraga said. "That's what I did. Actually, I have to say, 'Thank you' to Texas."

The Tigers are certainly thankful.

Not only did the Tigers score early on Texas starter Kris Benson (0-1) thanks to Gerald Laird's second-inning RBI sacrifice fly and Carlos Guillen third-inning sacrifice fly, they added on in bunches.

The crushing blow came after Benson gave up three straight singles and hit Placido Polanco. Benson briefly recovered to strike out Magglio Ordonez, but left his first pitch to Cabrera up enough for Cabrera to hit out on a line to left-center field, an estimated 424-foot blast.

Cabrera has reached base safely 14 times in 20 plate appearances this year, including a two-run double off the left-field fence to cap a six-run seventh inning.

"We know we're a good offensive club," Leyland said. "We got into a little bit of a funk, and we broke out of it."

Galarraga, by contrast, simply picked up where he left off last year.

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