Detroit There would be no easing into the 2014 season for Greg Holland.
Kansas City’s star reliever was called on in the ninth inning with the potential winning run already at third, and Detroit’s Alex Gonzalez greeted him with a single to left that gave the Tigers a 4-3 victory over the Royals on opening day Monday.
Kansas City’s bullpen, so impressive a year ago, couldn’t hold on to a two-run lead in the late innings.
“I get paid to get people out, and I didn’t do it today,” Holland said. “We’re not here to fight and compete. We’re here to win.”
It wasn’t the easiest situation for Holland, who converted 47 of 50 save chances last season. Wade Davis (0-1) allowed a one-out walk to Alex Avila and a single to Nick Castellanos before Holland came in and couldn’t get out of the first-and-third jam.
Kansas City lost its sixth straight opener.
Acquired by Detroit in late March following an injury to shortstop Jose Iglesias, Gonzalez made a costly error in Kansas City’s three-run fourth but made up for that with a tying triple in the seventh. His single in the ninth gave Brad Ausmus a win in his first game since replacing Jim Leyland as the Tigers’ manager.
“I’ve played on a lot of opening days — I don’t even remember all of them — but this one was special,” Gonzalez said. “I was looking for a pitch that I could elevate, and I got one. I rounded first, and all I saw was the whole team coming at me.”
Joe Nathan (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth in his first appearance for the Tigers.
Salvador Perez had four hits for Kansas City, which won 86 games last year thanks in large part to its bullpen. The Royals were 67-6 in 2013 when leading by at least two runs at any point from the seventh inning on, according to STATS.
“We’ve got a long season to go,” said Kansas City starter James Shields, who was pulled in the seventh before the bullpen squandered the lead. “I’ll hand the ball to those guys any day of the week.”
Justin Verlander allowed three runs — two earned — in six innings, and Victor Martinez homered for the Tigers, but their offense was quiet until the seventh. With Kansas City ahead 3-1, Austin Jackson hit a one-out triple and Avila drew a walk.
Aaron Crow replaced Shields and struck out Castellanos, but the third strike was a wild pitch that allowed Jackson to score. Gonzalez followed with a triple to the gap in left-center.
Verlander allowed six hits, walked three and struck out two, while Shields gave up three runs and five hits in 61⁄3 innings.
“The bottom of their order did a real good job today,” Shields said. “It’s definitely a tough loss — not the way we want to start our season off.”