Carlos Santana walked up to the plate in the ninth with the bases loaded and one out. The game was tied. There were just 15,000 in attendance at Progressive Field, but as the game wore on, the crowd sounded more like a sell-out throng than the usual drowsy gathering. Santana had diffused a rally in the first inning by hitting into a double play, but when he came up in the ninth, that seemed like the ancient past.
The matchup on paper favored the Tigers. Jeanmar Gomez, thrust into the rotation because of Mitch Talbot's elbow injury, had been much less effective than last season. His fastball was a couple mph slower, and his sinkers weren't sinking. Max Scherzer, Detroit's starter, had struck out 30 in 31 innings, and had thrown eight shutout innings in his previous start. And for the most part, paper matched the game. Gomez in the first threw a nothing fastball to Miguel Cabrera, who hammered it out of the park. It looked for the first couple innings that Detroit would blow the Indians out. And they really should have; Detroit was one hit away from a rout several times.
1. Second inning, 2-0 Detroit. Rhymes strikes out with the bases loaded.
2. Fourth inning, 3-0 Detroit. Rhymes flies out with runners on first and third.
3. Sixth inning, 3-0 Detroit. Ordonez strikes out with the bases loaded.
If the Tigers get a hit in any of those situations, the game's over. But they didn't, and the Indians made them pay.
Max Scherzer started to run out of gas in the sixth inning. He's not really an innings eater at this point in his career even though his stuff is good enough to take him deep into games. After retiring the first two in the inning, Asdrubal Cabrera lined a solid single to center field, just the third hit of the game for the Indians. Choo then worked a walk, as did Carlos Santana, bringing up Shelley Duncan. Duncan was in the lineup against a right-handed starter because Travis Hafner was still nursing a sore ankle, but he came through, lining a single into left field, scoring two. Despite collecting just four hits to that point, the Indians were just one run down.
Chad Durbin, who had managed to retire Ordonez to end the sixth, came back out for the seventh. Bad idea. He gave up singles to the first two hitters of the inning, and Manny Acta had to pull him. This was in my estimation the last time in quite a while that Durbin will be used in an important game situation, and with May almost here, he can't afford many more bad outings. Joe Smith couldn't keep the score where it was, giving up a run-scoring single to LGFT Jhonny Peralta. Alex Avila drove another run home with a sacrifice fly. The Indians were now back where they started from: down three runs.
Scherzer came back for the seventh, which caught me by surprise. The Tigers have a deep bullpen, and with the added runs, this seemed a good time to pull their starter. After getting Brantley, Scherzer left one up to Matt LaPorta: 5-3. After he walked Sizemore with two outs, looking rather bad while doing it, I was sure that this would be it. But even though Leyland walked out to the mound, he left his starter in. Asdrubal Cabrera took advantage, jacking a high fastball over the right-field wall to tie the game. The Tigers had been the better team all game, but just couldn't put the contest away. Now, with just a handful of hits, the Indians had jumped back into the game yet again.
Each game has it's own separate personality, but this one also seemed to feed off past victories. All those easy blowouts, impressive pitching performances had a hand in the comeback. Because of those wins, an AL-best 16 wins, the players and fans seemed to expect yet another win, especially after Asdrubal's homer.
The count was 3-1. Joaquin Benoit had gotten Shin-Soo Choo to swing through high fastballs, but Santana had laid off them. Now, with nowhere to put Santana, Benoit had to throw a strike. Carlos was waiting for a fastball in the strike zone. Benoit delivered one, and Santana hit one of the most majestic home runs you'll ever see deep into the right field seats.
If you have a DVR and MLB Network, tape Quick Pitch tonight or tomorrow morning. Watch the first five or so minutes of the show; after the usual highlights of the Tigers-Indians game, they'll switch over to their dugout camera. The shot starts in the Tribe dugout, capturing the initial reaction to the grand slam, then it follows the payers out onto the field as they greet Adam Everett, Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, and finally Santana.
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