MLB

ALCS rematch on tap for Tigers' home opener

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This home opener should bring back some fond memories for the Detroit Tigers.

The last time the New York Yankees were in town, Detroit was finishing off a four-game sweep in the 2012 AL championship series.

Doug Fister takes the mound for the Tigers on Friday against New York's Ivan Nova, and expectations are high in Motown, even though the Tigers lost two of three at Minnesota to start the season.

''Hopefully the weather will be all right, and the people will be fired up,'' Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.

The Tigers beat the Yankees in the Division Series in 2011, winning the decisive game in New York. Last year, their postseason series was a mismatch. The Yankees' offense fell apart, and Detroit wrapped up the American League pennant with an 8-1 win in Game 4 last October.

Since then, the Tigers have added outfielder Torii Hunter, and despite some uncertainty in the bullpen, Detroit is a fairly heavy favorite in the AL Central. New York, meanwhile, is trying to stay afloat despite injuries to stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson.

''Anybody that doesn't respect the Yankees is a fool, under any circumstances. I can tell you that,'' Leyland said.

Detroit's biggest question coming out of spring training was how the bullpen would perform. The Tigers don't have a set closer. Phil Coke closed out their win in the season opener, but he lost a lead in the ninth inning Wednesday.

Leyland doesn't seem eager to push his starters too much early in the season, so the bullpen could be tested on a regular basis. Detroit brought back Jose Valverde on Thursday, but only on a minor league contract.

Valverde lost his job as the Tigers' closer in the ALCS last year, but Detroit won the series with ease anyway. Right now, the Yankees have enough problems without worrying about avenging last year's disappointment, but playing the Tigers will be an early challenge.

''I guess it seems like we were just there, because this is the first trip and it was our last,'' left-hander CC Sabathia said.

Sabathia is supposed to pitch against Justin Verlander on Sunday in a matchup of aces. New York's David Phelps takes the mound against Max Scherzer on Saturday in the middle game of the three-game set.

The Tigers won their home opener last year, beating Boston 3-2 on Austin Jackson's ninth-inning hit. In fact, they haven't lost their first home game since 2008, the year they started 0-7 and went on to a disappointing season.

Detroit didn't get to start the season at home this year, but that means this series against the Yankees will cover the whole weekend.

''Opening Day in Detroit is an event, so it'll be exciting,'' catcher Alex Avila said.

The biggest offseason move the Tigers made was signing Hunter to play right field. He's played at Comerica Park plenty in the past, but now he'll be a member of the home team.

Hunter had four hits in the opening series at Minnesota, but he hasn't homered yet for the Tigers. He's excited for the first home game with his new team, but he's well aware there will be plenty more after that.

''It could be crazy. We've just got to kind of harness it,'' Hunter said. ''Don't get too pumped up and let the adrenaline take over. We've got to harness it and play your game.''

Tagged: Tigers, Yankees, Torii Hunter

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