DETROIT -- One day into the 2012 season, we are assured that the closer controversy will have legs.
The late-inning combination of setup man Mark Melancon and closer Alfredo Aceves failed their first test Thursday, when Austin Jackson's bases-loaded single off Aceves in the bottom of the ninth scored the winning run in Detroit's 3-2 win over the Red Sox, who had tied the score with two runs in the top of the ninth.
Melancon was pulled by new manager Bobby Valentine after giving up back-to-back, one-out singles to Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila. In came Aceves, just anointed closer after Andrew Bailey's thumb surgery left the Sox scrambling for alternatives. The move was unusual, inasmuch as a closer is not typically brought into a tie game on the road.
Red Sox fans who were demanding a recount when Justin Verlander beat out hometown favorite Jacoby Ellsbury for the Most Valuable Player Award last season got their answer from Verlander on Thursday afternoon.
The Detroit Tigers' right-hander who won both the MVP and Cy Young Award, delivered a performance worthy of all the hardware in the 2012 season opener, shutting out the Red Sox on two hits through eight innings before yielding to closer Jose Valverde.
But Valverde, who converted all 49 of his save opportunities last season, was not able to pick up where he left off, failing to close out the Red Sox in the ninth. Ryan Sweeney, who was facing the prospect of being fingered as the culprit for defeat after turning the wrong way on a liner that led to a triple and Detroit's tying run, answered with a two-out, game-tying triple of his own in the ninth.
The Detroit win came before a crowd of 45,027, the largest Opening Day crowd in the 13-year history of Comerica Park.
Tigers fans, buoyed by the addition of slugger Prince Fielder, are justifiably excited about their ballclub, the defending American League Central champs.
Red Sox fans, dismayed by the loss of closer Bailey, are justifiably concerned about their team, which has missed the postseason each of the past two seasons and began and ended 2011 in disastrous fashion, going 2-10 at the outset and 7-20 down the stretch.
Those concerns were hardly quelled when Verlander held the Sox to David Ortiz's second-inning double and Sweeney's fifth-inning single. Verlander struck out seven and rendered the Sox helpless with his lethal combination of a 97 mph fastball and a curveball he dropped in for a strike at will.
Red Sox starter Jon Lester, meanwhile, matched zeroes with Verlander for the first six innings, but was touched up for a run in the seventh on two-out doubles by Peralta and Avila. The opposite-field hit by Avila, which landed just beyond the outstretched glove of left fielder Cody Ross, came one pitch after Lester did not get the call from plate umpire Dale Scott on a borderline pitch.
Lester barked at Scott as he came off the mound after striking out Ramon Santiago to end the inning.
Jackson opened the eighth with a drive to right, the direction the wind was blowing much of the game. Sweeney first turned to his right, then reversed himself, but did not make the catch. Left-hander Franklin Morales replaced Vicente Padilla, and Jackson eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Fielder.
The Sox tied it in the ninth when Dustin Pedroia doubled and Adrian Gonzalez singled him to third. A sacrifice fly by Ortiz made it 2-1, and after Youkilis went down swinging, Sweeney lined his game-tying hit into the right-field corner.