Tribe closer Chris Perez has been lightning rod of controversy since his comments after Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Miami Marlins. On Sunday morning, he spoke in even deeper detail and refused to back off what he said. During that diatribe, he made a bold call – “I hope my first (save) chance is in a one run game facing (Miguel) Cabrera and (Prince) Fielder.”
He would get his wish.
They say there is more fun in the journey than the destination and last night certainly felt that way, but not early on. Ubaldo Jimenez, everyone’s favorite enigma, took the ball from Manny Acta in hopes of getting the Indians off to a great start in this big three-game set with the rival Detroit Tigers. They handed him a one-run cushion in the first inning when Asdrubal Cabrera doubled off the wall in center, scoring Jason Kipnis. However in the second inning, Ubaldo would give that run back, and more.
In case you have been living under a rock, Jimenez likes to walk people from time to time. Doesn’t it always seem that those free passes come back to bite him?
With one out in the second, Brennan Boesch hit a rocket over the glove of Shin-Soo Choo in right for a double. Jimenez then fell behind old friend Jhonny Peralta before walking him. Alex Avila, who killed the Indians last year but entered the night hitting just .225, took Ubaldo’s first pitch into the center field seats for a three-run homer. The Tigers approach was to get ahead of Ubaldo early in the count, despite his noted command issues. In this instance, it worked.
“I learned a lesson,” said Jimenez. “I started throwing my breaking ball earlier in the count. They were really aggressive in that inning.”
Despite the fact that he would walk five more Tigers – six for the game in six innings – the Avila jack would be the only runs he would allow. He put two on in the third, two in the fourth, two in the fifth, and one in the sixth, yet the Tigers never could capitalize.
“I don’t feel good walking guys,” said Ubaldo. “But once I walk them, I have to find a way to get the next guy out without him doing much damage. I think I found a way to get out of that.”
Wiggling his way through six, Ubaldo gave his offense enough time to play catch up. The crept to within 3-2 on a Travis Hafner two-out RBI single that scored Shin-Soo Choo in the third. Hafner entered that at-bat in a 1-33 slump with runners in scoring position and an 1-17 skid overall. Hafner came through in the fifth with a sac fly that tied the game.
The Tribe had Tigers starter Rick Porcello him on the ropes several times, but never really had that big inning. The sixth is where they broke through.
Michael Brantley opened the frame with a single and stole second. After Johnny Damon K’d (he was 0-3 with two punch outs), Casey Kotchman broke the tie with an RBI single up the middle. It was a three-hit night for the Tribe’s first baseman, who is now hitting .306 (19-62) with 11 RBIs during the month of May. Up next was Jose Lopez, filling in at third for the injured Jack Hannahan for the eighth straight game. He hit a rope to the right-center gap. Boesch made a running attempt, but the ball bounced off of his glove for an RBI double. It was a play a good defender makes.
But nobody said that Tigers slow pitch softball lineup was full of gold glovers.
After some stellar relief work from Tony Sipp, Joe Smith (one pitch, one out), and Vinnie Pestano (who looked absolutely dominant in the eighth), the stage was set for what all Tribe fans were anxious to see. Chris Perez running out of the bullpen for the first time since his controversial commentary. As I said on Twitter last night, this was the most compelling Tribe ninth inning since 2007.
“T didn’t know what to expect,” the Tribe closer said.
The doors opened. “Firestarter,” the ironically named song that plays as Perez enters a game, blared through the Progressive Field speaker system, and out he jogged. The 15,000-plus Indians fans all rose to give Pure Rage a standing ovation. The place just erupted. Kudos to the crowd for reacting the right and smart way.
“That’s the loudest I’ve ever been cheered here. It didn’t go unnoticed, trust me. I’m humbled. That was really nice,” he said.
Now he just had to do his job. Easier said than done.
As he has done in the past, Perez didn’t make things easy on himself. With one out, he walked Ramon Santiago. Andy Dirks followed up with a single, putting the tying runs on base. Perez was now in the exact situation he called for Sunday morning.
First was Cabrera. Perez dug in and K’d the hitting machine for the second out. Next was Fielder, in his first big at-bat in this rivalry. After falling behind 3-0, the Tribe’s closer got Prince on a true “Fielder’s choice” to end the game. Everyone in the stadium and watching at home was relieved. Perez did the job for his 14th save as the Tribe took this one 5-3.
A fired up CP was all smiles after the game.
“That’s why we play the game,” Perez said. “I like to face those guys. I told you guys on Sunday I wanted a one-run game with Fielder and Cabrera coming up. They were the winning runs, so I got what I wanted. Luckily, I made some pitches and got out of it.”
It was a big win on several fronts. It ended a 10-game losing streak against the Tigers and moved them four games ahead of the preseason favorites. Ubaldo, despite the one bad pitch and the six walks, got the Indians into the seventh inning with a lead. Hafner drove in two runs, despite the fact that he is slumping about as anyone in the lineup not named Johnny Damon. Kotchman had three more hits and seems to have found his groove in May. Lastly, and most importantly, we got the all important “first appearance” out of the way with Perez, the fans responded well, and Rage slammed the door on a win.
You also didn’t want to lose that game knowing that Justin Verlander looms on Thursday. Tonight, the Tribe goes for two straight against the Motor City Kitties with Zach McAllister (1-1, 4,34 ERA) on the mound. This will most likely be Zach’s last start as Josh Tomlin is just about ready to return from the DL. The Tigers will send out Doug Fister (0-2, 1,59 ERA). In eight career starts against the Indians, Fister has an ERA of 2.31.
It should also be interesting to see if Jack Hannahan returns to the lineup. He has been out for 10 days, leaving the roster short-handed, though Lopez has done a great job in his absence, hitting safely in all eight games while hitting .357 (10-28) in the process.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)