Tigers 6, Yankees 4. Detroit opened its season with Frank Tanana on the mound; the 37-year-old southpaw had once been an ace, but had long since entered the capable-innings-eater phase of his career. He was still a better Opening Day option than New York's Tim Leary, a 32-year-old right-hander who in 1990 had led the AL in losses and wild pitches.
The Yankees drew first blood in the season's introductory half-inning. Don Mattingly singled with one out, stole second, and scored on a two-out hit by Hensley Meulens. The Tigers countered immediately, as Lloyd Moseby doubled with one away and came around in front of a two-run homer by Alan Trammell.
The starters calmed things in the second, combining to permit only a leadoff hit to Detroit's Mickey Tettleton. The storm resumed in the third, however. Mattingly once again singled with one away, and this time trotted the rest of the way around when Kevin Maas launched a two-run shot. Singles by Meulens and Jesse Barfield went to waste later in the inning, but after Leary threw a flawless home third, Mike Blowers led off the fourth with a homer and augmented the Yankee lead to 4-2. One batter later, Alvaro Espinoza singled; he was then caught stealing, but Tiger second baseman Lou Whitaker was shaken up on the play and pulled from the game. (Whitaker would not go on the DL, but didn't play again until April 13.) The CS defused any potential for further rallying in the frame.
Leary struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth; Tanana allowed a leadoff walk in the fifth, but Roberto Kelly was caught stealing, and New York managed no further baserunners. Detroit then rallied in the bottom of the inning. Second-year third baseman Travis Fryman led off with a single. Two strikeouts later, Moseby walked, and Trammell doubled both runners home to equalize the score at 4 runs apiece.
The Tigers turned pitching duties over to Dan Petry in the top of the sixth, and the bases were quickly loaded through no fault of the new hurler. With one out, pinch hitter Matt Nokes reached on a two-base error by Tony Bernazard, who'd taken over second base for Whitaker. Petry intentionally walked pinch hitter Torey Lovullo, and Espinoza reached on a fielder's poor choice - everyone was safe, the bases were loaded, and there was one out. However, Petry induced a double play grounder from Steve Sax to end the threat.
Leary set Detroit down 1-2-3 in the home sixth. Paul Gibson allowed a single to Kelly and a walk to Maas in the seventh, but Meulens hit into a rally-ending double play. Greg Cadaret relieved Leary in the bottom of the inning; Milt Cuyler greeted him with a single, and Tony Phillips followed with a walk. One out later, Eric Plunk relieved; Cuyler stole third after Plunk took the mound, and after Trammell fouled out, Cecil Fielder doubled to score both runners and put the Tigers ahead 6-4.
Gibson was perfect in the eighth. Plunk had rather more trouble in the bottom of the inning, walking Tettleton, Fryman, and Cuyler consecutively. However, Tettleton was caught stealing before the other two free passes were issued. Steve Farr took over for Plunk and walked Phillips, but Moseby hit into a force to leave the bases loaded. The squandered opportunity proved irrelevant a half-inning later when Mike Henneman worked around a Sax single to hold the Yankees scoreless and end the game.
For most teams, Opening Day carries a connotation of hope for the future. The blank slate of a new season brings with it the feeling of endless possibility. But for these two teams in this particular season, Opening Day drew more attention to the past. New York's Don Mattingly had not yet turned 30 when this game was played, but his best days were already long behind him; his two hits, two runs, and stolen base helped carry the Yankee offense in this game, but the rebound they signified in Mattingly's level of play for the season was only from dreadful to acceptable. On the other side, Detroit's Alan Trammell, recently turned 33, had a quality season in 1990, and started '91 with a bang - a homer, a double, and four RBI. The promise of a return to the glories of yesteryear would prove ephemeral in his case as well; injuries ended up costing Trammell much of the season, and he would go on to play fewer games in 1991 than in any year since he was a teenager.
This is an overgeneralization, of course; Kevin Maas (age 26) hit a two-run homer, and Travis Fryman (22) reached base twice and scored a run, so it's not like everyone who accomplished anything in this game was nearing retirement. But Mattingly and Trammell were probably the headliners for their respective teams in this one, and both of them represented recent successful periods in their respective franchise histories that were drawing to a close.