July 7, 2013
This was a big win. It may not matter in the long run whether the Indians won this game or not, but right now it's a big win. Before today's game, the Tigers had beaten the Indians seven straight times, and had won five straight. Combine that with the Indians' four game losing streak, and you'd be looking flush at a 5.5 game deficit if the Indians didn't beat the unbeaten Max Scherzer tomorrow.
At this point, we'll take any win against the Tigers, whether it be of a dramatic sort like today's game or an easy win like today's game should have been. But because the Indians had to rely on a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, the win didn't leave you with a nice contented feeling. Had Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez shut the Tigers down after Corey Kluber left, all would be right with the world, but because the Indians had to get off the mat in the bottom of the eighth after blowing a 6-1 lead, the mood was one of relief, as in the Indians were darn lucky to get this one.
Corey Kluber has a nice habit of coming through with a great outing when the Indians desperately need one. It was his gem in Kansas City that started their early-season winning tear, and it was his gem in Texas that ended an eight-game losing streak. And today, with the Indians in another difficult spot, he came through again. Corey gave up a first-inning home run to Miguel Cabrera on an inside fastball* and nothing else while he was on the mound. Like Carlos Carrasco, Kluber started the game trying to pitch inside to the Detroit lineup, but unlike Carrasco, Kluber not only stuck to the plan even after that initial setback, he was able to execute it. He tied a career high in strikeouts with ten, allowed eight base runners (five hits, three walks), and got out of a couple mini-jams in his 6.1 innings of work.
The Indians were facing Doug Fister, a pitcher who has historically baffled the Indians (career .212/.244/.315 line against), but today they got to him early. And, as has been the case often this year, they did it with two outs. After Fister retired Bourn and Cabrera, he walked Kipnis and Swisher to get to Michael Brantley. Now Brantley has for the most part been an almost invisible player on this team, holding down left field, batting just about everywhere, and hitting neither poorly enough or good enough to attract much attention. He's a point of contention at this establishment, but I'd bet the casual fan doesn't give much thought to Tribe left fielder. Well, for today at least that changed, and it all started in the first inning, for Brantley, after seeing six pitches from Fister, hit the seventh over Andy Dirks' head to drive in both Kipnis and Swisher. Carlos Santana then jumped on an inside cutter, driving it over the right field fence to stake the Indians to a 4-1 lead.
As you can probably tell by the effusive praise heaped on Kluber above, that 4-1 lead was not only maintained, but allowed to grow. Lonnie Chisenhall led off the second with a towering home run that just nestled inside the right field foul pole, and then Michael Brantley took Fister deep in the sixth. The Indians were now up 6-1, and had the back end of the bullpen set up to have a relatively easy end of the game.
But it was not to be. Joe Smith came in with one out in the seventh and gave up three straight singles, allowing two runs to score and barely escaping further damage. Then Vinnie Pestano came in to protect a 6-3 lead, but couldn't hanging a slider over the middle of the plate to Torii Hunter. Seconds later, Hunter tied the game with a three-run homer. Pestano couldn't get out of the inning, and Cody Allen, who had warmed up a couple times before, came in to get what was in retrospect a huge out (a Victor Martinez strikeout with two on).
So now the Indians were in danger on blowing a 6-1 lead, falling 4.5 games back with Max Scherzer on the mound tomorrow. But Michael Brantley made sure that the Indians wouldn't lose today, for after Nick Swisher drew a leadoff walk off of Al Alurquerque, he again went deep, pulling a 3-1 95 mph fastball into the right field seats.
The Indians would tack on another insurance run, giving Chris Perez a 9-6 lead. Perez, unlike Smith and Pestano, took care of the Tigers to finally finish off a victory that the Indians should have wrapped up long before.
*And I can't really blame Kluber for that pitch. Cabrera was obviously sitting on it, and he's one of only a handful of players in the game that could have turned on that pitch.
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