Opportunity knocked. Andy Dirks smacked it over the fence in right field.
Dirks hit a grand slam home run Monday night to lead the Detroit Tigers to a 7-2 victory over the Houston Astros. He also had a single, a double and two runs scored.

Dirks took advantage of an off target 0-2 pitch for the grand slam. He filled in nicely for leadoff hitter Austin Jackson and led the Tigers to their fifth win in five games against the Astros this season.

"I’ve hit leadoff in the minor leagues and college, and I’ve hit leadoff in the big leagues," Dirks said. "It’s really nothing different for the way I approach it. I just try to get on base for the big guys when I’m up there."

Getting on base for the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder has been common for Jackson this season. The Tigers have no chance to "replace" Jackson in their starting lineup. Guys like him don't grow on trees, not on the end of the bench in Detroit, and not in Toledo, or Erie, or Lakeland. Jackson is the catalyst of the offense, the guy who gets things going.

How important is he to the Tigers? So far this season, they are 2-1 in games that he has not started, with both of those wins coming against Houston. But last season, they were 80-55 (.593) when Jackson was in the starting lineup and 8-19 (.296) when he was not.

Look at those numbers again. The Tigers won nearly 60 percent of their games when Jackson started and less than 30 percent of their games when he did not. Of course, there were other factors involved. Past performances are not accurate predictors of future events. But losing a leadoff hitter as talented as Jackson would be tough on any team.