The last home game of the year was, unlikely, one of the most entertaining games of the season.
Justin Verlander was making his last start of the season, and he was leaving nothing in the tank. His fastball was registering in the upper 90s from his first pitch of the game to his last pitches in the seventh inning. And at times, those fastballs were perfectly placed, up and away, and unhittable. After he loaded the bases in the seventh inning, he blew away both Trevor Crowe and Shin-Soo Choo with 100 mph fastballs. He was also spotting his low-80s curve in the strike zone all game. So, you may ask, how the heck did the Indians score four runs off him?
The first run came because of two Detroit miscues. Jordan Brown doubled over the right fielder's head, and advanced to third on a comebacker to the mound; Brown should have been dead meat, but Brandon Inge had for some reason broken towards second base and wasn't there to take the throw. Brown would score on a wild pitch that catcher Gerald Laird should have kept at the plate; the pitch was in the dirt, but it was directly over the plate, and Laird didn't have to move laterally to get in front of it. The second run came on a pitching mistake by Verlander. With a runner on third (Shelley Duncan, who had doubled and gone to third on a fly out) and two outs, he threw Jayson Nix a 2-2 changeup and hung it; Nix blooped the pitch into shallow left field to plate Duncan. Why a guy with an upper 90s fastball would mess around throwing a changeup, which isn't even his best off-speed pitch, to a hitter with two strikes, is beyond me to comprehend, but I'm glad he did it.
Meanwhile, Josh Tomlin was getting hit around pretty good by Detroit's B lineup, but somehow the rookie right-hander kept in the game. Ryan Raburn hit a two-run homer in the first inning, and it seemed like the game was effectively over. Tomlin gave up another run in the second, and now it seemed certain that the Indians wouldn't win, for Verlander hadn't given up more than three runs in a game since early August. But Tomlin got the Indians through five, and by that time the game had turned around.
After Lou Marson walked with one out in the fifth (another unexplainable gaffe), Michael Brantley turned a fastball around, pulling it down the right field line. In another example of good fortune, the ball stuck under the bottom lip of the right field wall, and by the time the right fielder retrieved it and threw home, Lou Marson was able to score, and Brantley got to third. That set the stage for the key play of the game. Manny Acta put on the suicide squeeze with Trevor Crowe at the plate, and even though Verlander threw an eye-high fastball, Crowe got the ball down and in play. Brandon Inge made a great play to get Crowe at first, but the damage had been done. The Indians now improbably had come back from three down on one of the best pitchers in the AL, and with a second-game version of an already weak lineup.
Of course there was still four innings left to go, and with previous bullpens, this feel-good ending to the home schedule would have been lost in a late-game meltdown. But Justin Germano, Justin Masterson (in what's probably a preview of his future role with the Indians), Joe Smith, Rafael Perez, and, in a four-out save opprtunity, Chris Perez, shut out the Tigers offense, allowing two hits, one walk, and striking out five in four innings of work.