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Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton lead Detroit Tigers over Miami Marlins in extras

By Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange

MIAMI -- Ian Kinsler was the obvious star for the Detroit Tigers, but left fielder Justin Upton's contributions were just as vital.

Kinsler blasted a three-run homer and had the game-winning single in the top of the 11th inning to lead Detroit to an 8-7 Opening Day win over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

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Upton went 2-for-6 and had a game-saving catch in the ninth, denying Miami what likely would have been a walk-off inning.

"It would have been catastrophic had Justin not gotten that jump," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Justin takes pride in both sides of the ball. He wants to be a complete player. He's probably a bit underrated defensively."

Kinsler went 3-for-6 with four RBIs and two runs scored. His game-winning hit -- he pulled a line drive through the left-side hole -- came off reliever Craig Breslow (0-1). Breslow started the ninth by walking Anthony Gose, who was sacrificed to second by Mike Aviles before scoring on Kinsler's one-out single.

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The teams combined to use 13 pitchers, including Tigers starter Justin Verlander, who did not allow a hit until the sixth inning. Drew VerHagen got the win after escaping a two-on, two-out situation in the 10th. Shane Greene was perfect in the 11th, earning his first career save.

A sold-out crowd of 36,911 fans at Marlins Park watched with delight as Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez blew a relatively easy save chance. He entered the game in the ninth with none on and a 7-4 lead, but he gave up four hits, including three doubles, as Miami scored three runs to send the game to extra innings.

"I don't remember the last time I got knocked around like that," said Rodriguez, who converted 38-of-40 save chances for the Milwaukee Brewers last season. "They squared the ball pretty good -- they weren't bloop singles.

"Every pitch was up and in the middle of the zone. It's frustrating -- you prepare yourself for four or five months. ... I had four opportunities to make one pitch, and I didn't do it."

Verlander got a tough-luck no-decision, allowing three hits, two walks and three runs in six innings. He struck out five.

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Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen made a miserable debut for the Marlins, who signed him this winter to a five-year, $80 million contract, giving him the Opening Day start over Jose Fernandez.

Chen allowed nine hits and five runs in five innings but escaped with a no-decision.

"I didn't do my job," Chen said. "I didn't pitch as well as I hoped I would."

After falling behind 5-0 largely due to Chen, Miami cut its deficit to 5-4 when Dee Gordon tripled in the eighth and scored on Christian Yelich's sacrifice fly.

Detroit stretched its lead to 7-4 in the ninth with consecutive solo homers by Gose and Victor Martinez. Gose's shot reached the upper deck in right. Martinez showed his strength by going the other way, belting his pitch to left-center.

But Miami scored three times in the ninth on Adeiny Hechavarria's sacrifice fly and consecutive two-out doubles by Derek Dietrich and Gordon. The damage would have been worse had Upton not chased down Hechavarria's line drive with his fine running catch on the warning track in left field.

Despite the loss, the Marlins took some positives from the game.

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"No matter what -- we're going to fight," Dietrich said. "That's been our M.O. since I've been here. I like our momentum going into the next game."

Chen's first two pitches as a Marlin became Tigers hits -- a single by Kinsler and a double by Upton. The next batter, Miguel Cabrera, hit an RBI groundout, putting Detroit up 1-0 just four pitches into its season.

With two outs and no one on in the second, Detroit rallied for three more runs. Gose hit a hard line-drive single that bounced of Chen's left arm, and Verlander followed by dumping a single to right-center.

"After I got hit, I was thinking that I could keep going," Chen said. "Right now, I feel fine."

After Verlander's single, Kinsler slugged his homer to left to give Detroit a 4-0 lead. Detroit made it 5-0 in the fifth when Upton and Cabrera singled and scored on Nick Castellanos' sacrifice fly.

Miami scored three times in the sixth. Gordon doubled and took third when right fielder J.D. Martinez bobbled the ball. Gordon scored on a one-out single by Marcell Ozuna. Giancarlo Stanton capped the rally by golfing a two-run homer to left.

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NOTES: Miami's bullpen is thin. Carter Capps, one of the hardest throwers in baseball, is out for the year (Tommy John surgery). Mike Dunn, Miami's top lefty set-up man, is on the disabled list (forearm strain), although manager Don Mattingly said he could return in about a week. ... The Tigers hit three homers on Tuesday after leading the Grapefruit League with 49 homers -- their most spring long balls since 2006. ... Detroit has three players on an Opening Day roster for the first time in their major league careers: RHP Buck Farmer, LHP Kyle Ryan and RHP Drew VerHagen. ... Miami RHP Jose Fernandez, the first pitcher in the modern era to win his first 17 home decisions, will face former Marlins RHP Anibal Sanchez on Wednesday.

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