New York did most of its work early, scoring four runs in each of the first two innings and three in the third to take an 11-2 lead after three frames.
The Yankees rocked Tigers starter Justin Verlander (10-15) for eight runs (five earned) and seven hits in only 1 2/3 innings.
"That's the plan -- it's not always going to happen," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter. "We had some long at-bats and he was throwing a lot of pitches."
Verlander said he was just out of sorts.
"I didn't feel very good today -- there's nothing wrong with my arm or anything," Verlander said. "I just didn't feel right. I was just out of sync, my control was erratic and I didn't make the pitches when I needed to."
But Yankees starter Sidney Ponson didn't fare much better and couldn't retire a batter in the fourth inning, during which Detroit scored six runs to make it an 11-8 game.
Ponson gave up seven runs -- six earned -- on nine hits in three-plus innings.
"I didn't do what I was supposed to do today," said Ponson, who endured his fourth consecutive subpar outing.
Tigers leadoff man Jeff Larish drilled a single off Ponson's pitching hand in the fourth inning, but the righty refused to use the sharp grounder as an excuse for not retiring a batter in the inning.
"It's good -- a little bit sore, but it's good," Ponson said of his pitching hand.
Magglio Ordonez's RBI single in the fifth inning pulled Detroit to within 11-9, and the Tigers had a chance to do more damage with runners on first and second with one out.
But winning pitcher Brian Bruney (2-0) got Miguel Cabrera to pop out and fanned Matt Joyce to end the inning, and Jeter's two-out, bases-loaded single in the sixth inning accounted for the final margin. Bruney allowed one hit in 1 2/3 innings.
"It was real important," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi of Jeter's hit. "Those were two big two-out RBIs."
Hideki Matsui and Xavier Nady also each drove in two runs, and Johnny Damon hit his 12th homer.
Former Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield, Brandon Inge and Cabrera hit home runs for the Tigers.