Max Scherzer (1-0) gave up four runs in five-plus innings to pick up the win in a shaky start, his first of the season.
Phil Hughes (0-1) allowed four runs — three earned — on eight hits in four-plus innings on a day he was originally scheduled to make a rehabilitation start in the minors.
Darin Downs and Joaquin Benoit combined to pitch three scoreless innings to end the game for the Tigers.
Detroit led 5-1 after five innings. New York pulled within a run in the sixth, then let Detroit go ahead 7-4 in the home half.
Prince Fielder, one of six Tigers to drive in a run, had two RBIs a day after a two-homer, five-RBI performance against the Yankees.
Jayson Nix, filling in for Derek Jeter's injured backup, Eduardo Nunez, failed to field a routine grounder that allowed leadoff batter Austin Jackson to reach first. Jackson advanced to third on Cabrera's single and scored on Fielder's sacrifice fly.
Hughes, who was to pitch a Triple-A game Saturday as he recovered from a back injury, had his outing ended when he gave up a double to Hunter in the pivotal inning. Boone Logan entered and gave up two hits and an unearned run, and getting only one out.
New York got back into the game, briefly, by scoring three in the sixth and chasing Scherzer with two walks and Travis Hafner's RBI single.
Al Alburquerque relieved Scherzer with a three-run lead, two on and no walks. He gave Wells a free pass on four pitches and had the good fortune of having a call overturned. Boesch lined out to Fielder and the first baseman stepped on the bag before Wells got there, but the first-base umpire signaled he was safe before conferring with the home-plate umpire to fix his mistake.
After Alburquerque gave up another walk, Lyle Overbay hit a two-run single to pull the Yankees within a run.
Detroit restored a comfortable cushion with Fielder's RBI groundout and Andy Dirks' single in the sixth along with strong pitching from Downs and Benoit.
New York reliever Joba Chamberlain let Detroit take a four-run lead into the ninth, loading the bases by giving up a single to Cabrera and walking Fielder and Martinez to set up Dirks for a sacrifice fly.
Jeter, still recovering from left ankle surgery last October, did limited field work for the second consecutive day in Tampa, Fla. The shortstop fielded 41 grounders hit directly at him near the left-field fence, hit off a tee in a batting cage and played catch. ... The Tigers plan to play 2B Ramon Santiago again on Sunday and to put LF Matt Tuiasosopo and C Brayan Pena in the lineup for the series finale. ... Granderson could resume throwing next week as part of his rehabilitation program for a broken right forearm. The outfielder said Saturday he will have follow-up X-rays Tuesday and also hopes to be cleared to start swinging a fungo bat.