I write these recaps four to five times a week. Over a full baseball season, some of them are so much fun to put together and they write themselves. Then there are others where you have to grasp at an angle because nothing really exciting happened. Then there are the ones with one or two obvious story-lines Last night falls into the category of the latter.
It was another nice night down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario as the Indians, winners of 18 of 22, welcomed their Central Division rival Detroit to town. The Tigers have led the division most of this young season, but have been overtaken by the Tribe during this three weeks of baseball heaven here in Cleveland. With a two and a half game lead entering this short two-game set, no matter what happens, the Tribe will stay in first.
While the Tigers payroll is near the top of the league, the two teams are pretty evenly matched. The Tigers rotation is superior to the Tribe’s, there is no doubt about that. However, the Indians pen dwarfs Detroit’s. Both teams have loaded lineups, but it is not hard to see where the Tigers trump the Indians there. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hit third and fourth. It is a 1-2 punch that is the envy of all of baseball.
Once again, Cabrera would be the difference maker.
The game started out well enough for the Indians. In the first, Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera singled against hard-throwing Max Scherzer. Michael Brantley lined a sac fly scoring Bourn to put the Tribe on top 1-0.
Corey Kluber’s night was off to a tremendous start as well. With a heavy fastball load working, the Tribe’s fifth starter retired 12 of the first 13 men he faced. In the fifth, former Indians Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta opened with back to back singles, but Kluber came back strong with a big strikeout of Matt Tuiasosopo. He then retired Alex Avila and Omar Infante to end the threat.
Kluber was rolling, but Scherzer was one-upping him.
After Asdrubal’s one out single in the first, the Tribe didn’t touch Scherzer. An offense that has been so good for the last three weeks, looked overmatched. Scherzer would retire 22 in a row, including striking out the last three Indians he saw in the eighth inning.
He left after 118 pitches, giving up just the one run on two hits, striking out seven.
“That was a dominant performance,” Francona said. “His last pitch was 98. When you’re up around 115-120 pitches and you have that left in the tank, that’s saying a lot. That was impressive.”
Kluber was close to matching him, but in the sixth inning, he had to face that top of the Tigers order a third time around. Andy Dirks took a fastball and deposited it into the seats in right field, which tied the game at one. Torii Hunter followed that Dirks blast with a double to the gap in right-center. It seemed that danger time was upon us. Cabrera came to the plate with the lead run on second and first base open. I said at the time I would never pitch to this guy unless I absolutely had to. I know that Cabrera is right-hander and the left-handed hitting Fielder was on deck, but with the way Cabrera is swinging the bat, I would rather take my chances with Prince.
Manager Terry Francona decided to let Kluber go after Cabrera. It didn’t end up working out how either of them had planned.
The reigning AL MVP and Triple Crown winner took Kluber deep to center for a back-breaking two-run homer.
“If you walk him, and you have first and second and nobody out, you’re asking for trouble,” Francona said. “You’re putting your pitcher in a tough spot.”
What Francona said is true, but as good as Fielder is, Miguel Cabrera is on another level right now. He is hitting .384/.455/.667/12 HR/49 RBI in 43 games.
“I missed my spot,” Kluber said. “And it was kind of right where he wanted it.”
Kluber would settle back in by striking out Fielder to end the sixth. He would depart with one out in the seventh and finished the night giving up those three runs on eight hits, striking out eight without walking anyone. You would sign up for your fifth starter putting up those numbers every time out.
The game was still close at 3-1 and Scherzer would not be coming out for the ninth. Tightrope walking closer Jose Valverde was going to get the ball and a two-run lead with him can be dicey. This made Francona’s decision to pitch David Huff in a close game a bit of a head-scratcher.
A one time starting pitching prospect for the Tribe, Huff seems to have nine lives in this organization. He has been here for years and keeps coming back for more punishment. Huff was designated for assignment before the season and went through waivers unclaimed. With Nick Hagadone struggling and the need for a long man last week with so many games without a day off, the Tribe gave him another shot, this time as a reliever.
There is no doubt Huff needed some work, not having pitched in eight days. But in a two-run game against the team right behind you in the standings, this was probably not the time to bring in a guy that nobody else wanted on their 40-man roster and could have had for free.
After Cody Allen struck out the side in the eighth, Francona turned to Huff for the ninth. He would walk the under .200 hitting Avila, which would lead to back to back singles from Infante and Dirks. Avila scored to extend the Tigers lead and brought Francona out of the dugout to lift Huff. Matt Albers gave up a two-out RBI single to Fielder (after Cabrera was intentionally walked to load the bases with two out).
It was just one of those nights for the Indians. Valverde put two on in the ninth, but neither would come across as the Tigers took the first game of the series 5-1.
Tonight’s series finale will be another tough one for the Tribe hitters as they will be facing Tigers ace Justin Verlander (4-4, 3.17 ERA). The Indians will counter with Ubaldo Jimenez (3-2, 5.31 ERA)