When looking at the Detroit Tigers compared to our Cleveland Indians, one distinct advantage sticks out for the Kitties – starting pitching. The Detroit top three — Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez — would all be the Indians number one if they toiled in Cleveland. Rick Porcello and Drew Smily also dwarf Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco as a tandem. Thanks to Tuesday’s postponement due to freezing temperatures, the Tigers were able to skip Smily over the shortened two game set. Sanchez got the first crack at the Tribe last night with Verlander going Thursday afternoon.
Manager Terry Francona stayed with his normal turns, sending out Zach McAllister on a cold night at Comerica Park. The last time we saw Zach, he was dominant in a win against the San Diego Padres and if the Indians were going to win this one, a similar performance would be helpful.
The first inning had the look of a game that could be high scoring. Sanchez, who normally has impeccable command, walked the newly activated Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Jason Kipnis to start the game. A potential big inning was thwarted by Carlos Santana’s sixth double play ground out of the year. A run did score, but Sanchez got himself right off the hook. Carlos is locked in a 2-24 slump.
“The cold was just incredible. I’ve never pitched in this kind of weather in my life,” Sanchez said. “Even in Minnesota, it has always been in the 40’s, and today it was more like 30. In the first inning, I never got warm.”
In the bottom half of the first Ian Kinsler, the man brought over from Texas for Prince Fielder, roped a double down the line to left to start the home half of the first. A ground out from Torii Hunter moved him to third, and a ground out from Miguel Cabrera got him in. But the tie game wouldn’t last long thanks to some shotty Tiger defense and one big hit.
Asdrubal Cabrera sent a lazy ground ball to first to start the second inning. Miggy Cabrera booted it, setting the Tribe up. David Murphy worked Sanchez’s fourth walk of the game, which brought Yan Gomes to the plate. The Yanimal took Sanchez the other way to the spacious gap in right-center for a two-run triple. At 3-1 with a runner on third and nobody out, the Tribe was in business to step on the throat of Sanchez, but they couldn’t. Sanchez came back to strike out both Lonnie Chisenhall and Bourn before ending the inning on a Swisher fly out. It wouldn’t be the last time the Indians blew a chance with runners in scoring position with less than two outs.
In the fifth, Chisenhall singled and stole second with one out. He never moved from there. In the sixth against reliever Evan Reed, the Tribe had two on with one out, but Murphy struckout and Gomes’s line shot to left was snatched on the slide by Rajai Davis. An inning later, Chisenhall doubled with nobody out and was moved to third on a Bourn ground out, but once again Swisher and Kipnis couldn’t finish the job.
On the night, the Indians had just five hits and went 1-13 with runners in scoring position and got just one hit from their first seven hitters in the lineup — an eighth inning Asdrubal Cabrera single.
“There wasn’t going to be a lot of hitting tonight,” Tribe manager Terry Francona said. “We made [Sanchez] throw the ball in the strike zone. When he didn’t, we took our walks, and then Gomer hit the ball in the gap to really cash in our runs.”
Luckily for the offense, McAllister was dealing yet again. For the second straight start, he was in complete control and never got into any real trouble other than a two-on, two-out situation in the fourth, where he would punch out Alex Avila to end the threat. He essentially mixed his fastball and changeup to perfection and left after six innings. Zach gave up just the one run on four hits, striking out four while walking two. Over his last two starts, McAllister has allowed just one run in 13.2 innings pitched, striking out 11 with just the two walks. These last two starts are the best case scenario for the Tribe; Zach has been a stabilizing force in the middle of the rotation.
“He looks good,” Francona said of McAllister. “He should feel good about himself. He’s throwing the ball really well. He got back to where he’s throwing that fastball down, and it works for him. His fastball is his best pitch and he knows it. When he locates it, he’s really good.”
McAllister handed that 3-1 lead to the rocks of the pen. First up was Bryan Shaw, who worked around an Avila single, getting an Alex Gonzalez double play ball to end the inning. It was Cody Allen time in the eighth, but things got a little dicey.
Davis flared one to short right field. Out went Jason Kipnis, who spun one way and dropped a popup for an error. Kinsler then put down a perfect bunt down the third base line for a base hit. You just had that sinking feeling that all of those blown scoring chances were about to come back and haunt the Tribe. Hunter was next. For some reason, Tiger manager Brad Ausmus called for Hunter to lay down a sac bunt, but he failed in two attempts. When forced to swing the bat, Hunter hit a sharp grounder to first. Swisher stepped on the bag for one out and caught Kinsler in a rundown between first and second for out number two. Cabrera was the would be tying run, but on this cold night, nobody was hitting one out. Instead, he singled to left, inching the Tigers closer at 3-2. Allen would buckle down though and K old friend Victor Martinez for the big third out.
As always in the ninth for the Indians in a one run game, things cannot be easy. Another year, and another closer who puts runners on base to make us sweat. After getting Nick Castellanos to fly out, Avila, who entered the night two for his last 21, got his second hit, a double to right-center off of John Axford. Bourn bobbled the ball and missed the cutoff man, allowing Avila to chug all the way to third. Ausmus sent up pinch hitter and Justin Masterson killer Don Kelly. Axford needed a strikeout badly, and got one with his knee-buckling curveball. Davis was the Tigers last hope and Axford got him to ground out to short to close out a 3-2 win. McAllister got his first win against the Tigers in his seventh try.
This was just one round of 19 with their bitter rival. “Detroit was able to dominate us last year and we don’t want that to happen again,” said Bourn. “The way they dominated us last year was the difference between us winning the division. We can’t take it lightly against anybody in the division, but they’re at the top. They’ve won it the last three years. So they’re the reigning champs. You’ve got to knock them off. Then you can be the king of the hill.”
Round two comes this afternoon at 1:05. Danny Salazar will take his first crack at the Tigers since he shut them out on six hits in six innings in a 4-0 win September 1st of last year. He will go against the aforementioned Verlander.