The last three games against the first place Detroit Tigers have been absolutely demoralizing to say the least. I don’t know what it is, but every time they have seen the Indians this season, the Motor City Kitties just seem to come through when they need to, breaking the hearts of the Indians at seemingly the worst possible time.
If this were “Major League” the movie, the Tigers are the pre-final-scene New York Yankees and Miguel Cabrera is a real life Clew Haywood.
Rookie Danny Salazar was making just his second Major League start in a move the Indians brass would usually opt against. They said inning-limit be dammed, we are going to let the kid go the rest of the way. 89 pitches were the most he has thrown in any start and he has mostly been a five-inning pitcher. With the injury to Corey Kluber, Salazar had been told the spot is his the rest of the way. Reportedly the original plan was to bring Salazar up for not just this start, but to be a part of a six-man rotation through the end of the season. That has obviously gone by the wayside now that Kluber will miss the next 4-6 weeks.
The kid once again was absolutely electric. His fastball was regularly hitting 97-98 MPH, topping out at 100, and the Tigers had little answer for him. “That kid was really something special,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
Heading into the eighth inning, the Tribe led 3-2 thanks to the second of two RBI doubles from Nick Swisher. Salazar was still going strong and under 100 pitches. He struck out Austin Jackson for the second out – his 10th of the night, but then the veteran Torii Hunter singled, bringing Cabrera to the plate.
Francona had a decision to make – stick with the kid or let Joe Smith face baseball’s best hitter. Salazar had already K’d Miggy three times on the night – the first starting pitcher to do so this season. To me, it was a no-brainer. You stick with the kid, especially when you consider how shaky the pen has been this season.
“That would’ve been his last hitter,” Francona said, “but to that point I would’ve had a hard time justifying having him not pitch. That’s how good I thought he was.”
Interestingly enough, Cabrera himself said after the game he was hoping to see Smith.
“I don’t want to face him the fourth time,” he said. “I was saying to myself, ‘It’s time to bring in the bullpen.’ And when they decide to leave him in there, I say, ‘Let’s grind out this at-bat, try to make something happen.’”
So the stage was set. Salazar came right at him and on the first pitch he saw, Cabrera blasted a two-run homer to deep center field that felt like the Clew Haywood grand slam off of “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn. Talk about a kick to the man region. Cabrera is just that good.
The homer ended Salazar’s night and once again he left a lasting impression.
“Besides a couple of mistakes, I thought he was tremendous,” said Francona. “The poise, the competitiveness. . .I wish I could be sitting here talking about a win, but it doesn’t change the fact of how he pitches or how we feel about him. That was pretty awesome.”
The Indians offense still had two more chances to tie the game, which they would do in the eighth. Now trailing 4-3 and facing left-handed reliever Drew Smyly, the slumbering offense went right to work. Michael Brantley led off with a double, which was followed by another double from Carlos Santana. Because Brantley thought that left-fielder Andy Dirks could make the catch, he stopped in his tracks half-way and was unable to score. Still the Wahoos had runners on second and third with nobody out.
Out went Smyly and in came hard-throwing righty Bruce Rondon to face pinch hitter Ryan Raburn. The former Tiger could have played the hero, but instead struck out. Luckily, Leyland decided not to bring the infield in and conceded the tying run. Yan Gomes, who homered earlier in the game, hit a ground-ball to the right side which tied the game at four. Mike Aviles would pop out and strand the lead run at third.
That’s when the battle of the bullpens really began. Rich Hill tried his best to hand the Tigers the game in the ninth, walkking Don Kelly and giving up a single to backup catcher Brayan Pena to start the inning, but Cody Allen came on to work out of a bases loaded, one out jam. The Tribe went in order against Rondon and on to extra innings we would go.
Chris Perez came out for the 10th and a smattering of boos could be heard inside of Progressive Field – which is ridiculous by the way. The guy plays for YOUR team. He worked around a couple of crazy strikeouts and a Victor Martinez two-out single to keep the Tigers off the board. The Wahoo offense went right back to sleep as the game went longer.
Jose Veras and Jeremy Bonderman – yes THAT Jeremy Bonderman – retired 12 of the 13 men they would face. The only Tribe base-runner – Drew Stubbs in the 12th – was quickly erased on a Jason Kipnis double play ball.
Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw did their part, holding down the Tigers into the 14th. Francona sent out Shaw for a third inning of work in that 14th inning, something he had never done in his entire Major League career. Jackson greeted him with a leadoff double. After a sac fly moved Jackson to third, Shaw looked clearly gassed as he walked rookie Hernan Perez, who had entered the game in the eighth as a defensive replacement for Cabrera. With Prince Fielder coming up, Francona called for Marc Rzepcynski, who was working his third straight game. The lefty got ahead of Fielder 0-2, but hung a slider in Fielder’s wheelhouse and the All-Star put it into the gap in left-center, putting the Tigers ahead 6-4.
“My job is to come in there and get Prince out,” Rzepczynski said. “He knew a slider was coming and I left it up. He did his job.”
The Indians tried to mount a rally in their last at-bat, but came up just short. Back to back two-out hits from Aviles and Michael Bourn got the Tribe to within a run. Bourn would advance to third on a wild pitch, but that was as far as he would get as Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit struck him out to end the game.
In a long line of demoralizing defeats, this one may have been the worst of them all for a Tribe team fighting for their playoff lives.
“They all hurt,” Indians manager Francona said. “But when you go this far, you go that deep into a game, use up your bullpen, it’s a little more fresh five minutes after the game. But, they all hurt.”
I can’t write about last night’s game without mentioning the continued struggles of Asdrubal Cabrera. How Francona can continue to trot him out in the cleanup spot is a mystery. The guy is ice cold, going 0-6 last night. He is locked in a 5-41 slump (.122) with just one walk and in his last 10 games. He’s been giving the Indians absolutely nothing.
It is tough to think about this series. It has been beyond frustrating and the casual fan is probably running towards the lake front now with the Browns first preseason game set for tonight. But I cannot stress enough the favorable schedule that lies in front of them in September. They are still just 2.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot with 48 games to play. Tonight, they try to avoid the sweep with Zach McAllister facing Detroit’s second ace, Max Scherzer.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)