What was thought to be a pitchers duel turned into something unexpected. The sun splashed afternoon at Comerica Park and Detroit had a much different feel than the frigid night before, but with Justin Verlander and Danny Salazar locking horns, the thought was that the fans in attendance would be in for a quick afternoon. What transpired was three hour and thirty-eight minute affair where neither starter pitched past the fifth.
For the first three innings, things breezed right along with Salazar and Verlander putting up zeroes. The Tribe’s phenom was actually better, setting down the first eight Tigers he faced. Offensively, the Wahoo offense continued where they left off a night earlier, leaving runners on base. A leadoff walk from Michael Bourn was wasted after Nick Swisher struck out and Jason Kipnis grounded into a double play. Two innings later, the Tribe really had Verlander on the hook. David Murphy started things with a walk, but a second double play ball – this one from Yan Gomes – erased that mini-threat. But Lonnie Chisenhall and Bourn both singled in front of a Swisher walk to load the bases. It was Kipnis’s chance to get the Tribe on the board, but he K’d on three pitches. He was clearly upset by an iffy first strike call from umpire Lance Barrett and told him so on his way to the dugout after the third strike. Barrett used an extremely quick hook, tossing Kipnis for the first time in his career.
Said the Indians second baseman: “I didn’t think I showed him up. I didn’t try to stand there. I’m not here to show the guy up. I was just walking away and I told him that the first pitch changed the entire at-bat and you don’t need to be helping a guy like that out. Obviously, I used a couple words to express [myself], but that’s the full sense of what I said.”
Through three scoreless inning, it seemed like the Indians would hold the pitching advantage as it only took Salazar 35 pitches to do what Verlander did in 66. A five and fly was almost assuredly going to happen to the two-time Cy Young winner. In the fourth, both teams would get on the board. A two-out rally was started when Asdrubal Cabrera laid down a bunt single and advanced to second on Verlander’s throwing error. David Murphy, the new rock of the lineup, punched one out to center for an RBI single in a great at-bat. The Tigers responded with back to back one out singles from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez and a sac fly from Austin Jackson. Yes, Miggy got from first to third on a single to center. Stop the presses.
But as they did so many times a year ago, the Tribe offense responded by working the starter deep into counts and waiting for their pitch. Chisenhall got things started with another single but was erased on a Bourn fielder’s choice. After Swisher’s fly out, Mike Aviles (replacing Kipnis), reached on Nick Castellanos’s “ole” job on a ground ball his way. The slumping Carlos Santana did what he does best these days, walk, to load the bases for Mr. Clutch himself, Michael Brantley. Once again, Dr. Smooth delivered, this time with a two-run single to right, giving the Tribe a 3-1 lead. Now it was up to Salazar to keep the Tigers where they were.
“It was a big shutdown inning for us,” manager Terry Francona said about the fifth inning. “We get on the board, take the lead and they got the bottom of the lineup.”
This should have set up perfectly for Danny. The weak hitting Alex Avila and Alex Gonzalez were the first two due up. Neither is exactly known for their patience. Of course, Salazar walked them both. He was ahead of Avila 1-2 and then threw seven straight balls.
“You give a walk and you start thinking,” Salazar said. “For me, I started putting too many things in my mind. Maybe I’m pulling a little bit. Maybe my arm is behind. I started thinking a little bit about those things. That’s when I lost control on every pitch.”
A little reprieve came when Rajai Davis couldn’t put a bunt down and then popped up, but it was only temporary. Ian Kinsler, the newest Indian killer, took a chest high fastball deep over the fence in left-center for a three-run homer. That fast, the lead evaporated and the Tribe now trailed 4-3. But they weren’t done with him. Torii Hunter reached on an infield single and was doubled over to third by Cabrera. After Martinez was intentionally walked to load the bases, Jackson came through with his second sacrifice fly of the day. That would be all for Salazar who was replaced by CC Lee.
For the second consecutive start, Salazar failed to even go five innings. He departed giving up five earned runs on six hits in four and two-thirds. He struck out three and walked three on 82 pitches. We saw the best and the worst of Salazar in the same start, but he knows things have to change.
“I totally lost control,” Salazar said. “The first couple innings, I was throwing the ball down in the zone. I wasn’t trying to overthrow any pitches like my fastball. I was throwing hard and soft. In that fifth inning, I think I tried to get more aggressive and too perfect there, and I just lost control.”
The good news for the offense was that for the last four innings, the porous Tiger bullpen was going to have to take them to the winners circle. Lefty Phil Coke was the first guy to emerge. Gomes would reach on a one out throwing error by Gonzalez at short. Chisenhall followed with his third straight hit. Once again, Chiz was erased on a fielder’s choice by Bourn. Right-hander Al Alburquerque came on to face Swisher who again failed to come through with the key hit, stranding two more runners. Swisher is three for his last 23 and has looked bad doing so.
The Tigers added a key insurance run in the sixth against Lee. It became even more key when Brantley hit a two-run bomb to right off of Albuquerque, cutting the Detroit lead to a single run. It is just too bad Brantley’s clutch gene hasn’t spread to the likes of Swisher, Santana, and Kipnis.
Chisenhall’s fourth hit (he’s now 12-23 on the season), a leadoff single in the eighth against Joba Chamberlain, was wasted when the top third of the Tribe order failed to even move him over. They could muster nothing in the ninth with closer Joe Nathan working. The 7-5 Tigers win gave them a split of the weather shortened two-game series. This was a very winnable game that the Tribe.
Up next for the Wahoos is a return home for a weekend set with the Toronto Blue Jays. Justin Masterson looks to get back to his top tier form, something his team could really use. He will face off with Drew Hutchinson.