I wrote on Sunday that I felt the Indians were about to head into a big time trouble area. But the one thing I’ve learned about a Manny Acta managed team, they seem to respond well to adversity. They are also getting healthier. The same cannot be said for the Detroit Tigers.
Last night the Indians welcomed Johnny Damon back from paternity leave and it would pay big dividends. Carlos Santana was behind the plate for the first time since his DL stint. They faced the power throwing right-hander Max Scherzer, a strike-out machine. It didn’t take long before Wahoos greeted him rudely.
Shin-Soo Choo led the game off with a single. After two fly ball outs, Carlos Santana hit another lazy fly ball to short right field. Brennan Boesch, who we have seen butcher several balls this season against the Indians, dropped the ball as he ran in to make the catch. This kept the inning alive for the hottest Indian of the all, Michael Brantley. The man they call Dr. Smooth took Scherzer’s first pitch deep into the right-field bullpen for a three-run homer.
“I was just trying to make sure I got a fastball early that I could kind of drive,” Brantley said. “It’s big to have an extra out. You want to make sure you swing at a good quality pitch, and I did. I was able to put a good swing on it.”
All three runs were unearned. That is exactly what you need to do when you get the additional chances.
“It’s something we address all the time,” said Acta. “When we give a team extra outs at times, teams take advantage of us. We were fortunate to take advantage of it there.
Meanwhile, Brantley is now hitting .282 and extended his hitting streak to 14 game. During the streak, the Tribe’s center fielder has driven in 14 runs.
The Tribe kept their power stroke going in the fourth. After Johnny Damon walked and stole second, first baseman Casey Kotchman crushed a rocket shot to right field that got out in a hurry to extend the Tribe’s lead to 5-1. Miguel Cabrera countered with a solo shot in the bottom half of the frame to move the Tigers one run closer. Unfortunately for the kitties, the Wahoo attack had Scherzer’s number in this one.
Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera opened the fifth inning with singles. Jason Kipnis followed with a dribbler to short that Jhonny Peralta came up with, but his weak throw to first was beaten out by the speedy Kipnis. It’s a play that we’ve seen from our old friend and shortstop a million times. Choo would score on the play. Carlos Santana’s swinging bunt (not really, but it worked as one) moved Cabrera and Kipnis into scoring position. Tigers manager Jim Leyland wisely decided to walk Brantley with first base open, to set up a potential double play ball, facing the light hitting Damon.
Fresh off of the birth of twin daughters, Johnny was so due for a big hit. This was his time. A few innings earlier, Damon made a home-run saving catch off the bat of Prince Fielder. Now was the chance for him to come through with the stick. He did.
Damon laced a single to left scoring two runs and breaking the game wide open. It would also end Scherzer’s night. Anything the Indians can get from Damon in left would be a welcome sight. He knows the clock is ticking on him too.
“Of course I think about it,” said Damon when asked about his slow start. “This is my livelihood. My family and I would like to be here throughout this season and help the team make the playoffs. We also understand the game of baseball. (Matt) LaPorta was traded for a significant piece of the puzzle in CC Sabathia a few years ago. We also know Grady (Sizemore) is probably going to start ramping up his activities. I also know a guy hitting .180 can’t expect to be in the lineup every day.”
The game seemed like it would be a laugher at 8-2, but there were still plenty of outs left to get, and the Indians starter Jeanmar Gomez just didn’t have it. After a four-run, five-hit bottom of the fifth, the game was on again, and Gomez was done after five.
Give the Tribe credit though. The Tigers smelled blood in the water, but couldn’t overcome the Wahoo Express. Asdrubal Cabrera delivered a big RBI single in the sixth to stop the Detroit momentum. At 9-6, with four innings remaining, Acta turned things over the Bullpen Mafia. Only one base-runner would reach the rest of the way.
Tony Sipp worked a perfect sixth. Joe Smith worked a perfect seventh. Vinnie Pestano worked a perfect eighth. Chris Perez danced around an unlucky triple (a fly ball that seemed to have been tracked and caught, dropped in between Choo and Brantley) to record his 19th save of the season. It was rare form by the Mafia.
The 9-6 win moved the Indians to a perfect 5-0 against their rivals. In all five games, Pestano and Perez have closed out the final two innings.
“It’s very comforting when you have a lead in the eighth,” said Acta. “I tip my hat to the other club if they beat us. I’ll put those two guys up against anybody right now. More times than not, they’ll get it done.”
With the White Sox loss to Toronto last night, the Tribe has crept to within a half game of first place in the AL Central. They go for a second sweep of the Tigers in two weeks this afternoon at 1:05 PM. Its Derek Lowe (7-3, 3.06 ERA) who will go for the Indians against rookie lefty Casey Crosby. Crosby has made one start and was lit up by the New York Yankees for six runs in three and a third.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)