Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain points while on the mound in...

Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain points while on the mound in the seventh inning against the Tigers on Opening Day 2011. (Mar. 31, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The Yankees went into Thursday's season opener expecting to have shutdown relievers for the eighth and ninth innings. So it was no big surprise when Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera went six-up and six-down in a 6-3 win over the Tigers at Yankee Stadium.

"That's how it was designed," Rivera said.

The bigger inning for the Yankees' long-term plans could have been the seventh. In a clear vote of confidence, manager Joe Girardi turned to Joba Chamberlain with the score tied at 3 and told him to keep it right there.

Chamberlain did, retiring the top of the Detroit lineup with one strikeout. Curtis Granderson's tiebreaking homer off reliever Phil Coke in the bottom of the seventh and the Yankees' two subsequent runs made Chamberlain the winning pitcher. "I guess I can say I lead the league in wins right now," he said. "I can't say that very often."

David Robertson warmed up in the sixth, but it was Chamberlain who relieved CC Sabathia to start the seventh. Chamberlain, who missed time in spring training with a strained oblique muscle, caught Austin Jackson looking at an 85-mph slider and got Will Rhymes and Magglio Ordoñez on stress-free flyouts.

"Joba came in -- shutdown inning," Sabathia said. "Soriano. And then you expect that from Mo. It's definitely a strength of our team, and you saw that today."

Soriano made his pinstriped debut in the eighth. He struck out Miguel Cabrera to begin a 1-2-3 inning and walked off to cheers. "It was exciting to me," he said. "First time in a Yankees uniform. I made it."

Soriano, the Rays' closer in 2010, wouldn't have made it to the Bronx if Brian Cashman had had his way. The general manager was overruled by Hal Steinbrenner and ordered to sign him for three years and $35 million. That led to the awkward scene in which Cashman explained that he hadn't recommended Soriano's signing -- at the January news conference to introduce him to New York.

Soriano revealed Thursday that he approached Cashman early in spring training to clear the air. "Everything's fine," Soriano said. "He said they were happy they signed me."

The Yankees also are happy they re-signed Rivera, who began his 17th season with the Yankees and the 15th as their closer with a perfect ninth. He struck out Alex Avila to end it for the 560th save of his career.

"Their bullpen did a little better than ours, to be honest with you," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Their bullpen and the long ball is what did us in today. Pretty simple.''

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