Indians 11, Tigers 4
Indians improve to 85-62 (7 games up - magic number = 9)
You know the saying "good pitching beats good hitting?" Flip that around, at least for tonight. For although Corey Kluber allowed four runs, the Tribe offense picked up their ace.
Tonight’s weekend series marks an opportunity for the Indians to effectively put the division away; with 16 games left, the Indians came into tonight’s game leading the Tigers by 6 games, and can knock two off their magic number with every win against Detroit. Conversely, the Tigers still had an opportunity to overtake the Indians just by winning their remaining matchups with Cleveland. So there was quite a bit at stake for the Indians, and even more on the line for the Tigers.
Detroit set up their rotation this weekend so that their top three starters would be pitching, as did the Indians. And so the series opened with Corey Kluber against Michael Fulmer, who has a good shot at winning the AL Rookie of the Year. Fulmer had passed his 2015 innings totals several starts ago, yet he pitched very well in his two previous September starts. But the Indians made sure that he wouldn’t make a third straight quality start. They jumped on Fulmer in the first inning, starting with back-to-back singles by Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor. Mike Napoli then hit what should have a sacrifice fly, but Justin Upton lost the ball in the twilight sky, and both Kipnis and Lindor would score after the ball bounced over the left field fence. That play was a preview of both Cleveland’s offense and also Detroit’s defense.
Upton would make amends for his first inning mistake, lining a two-strike pitch over the right field fence in the second inning to get Detroit on the board. But the Tribe offense was just getting started. Carlos Santana drove a ground ball into the second base hole, scoring two more in the bottom of the second inning. Santana’s single came after a lengthy at-bat, which was another running theme tonight; Tribe batters rarely gave away an at-bat, forcing Fulmer to throw over 40 pitches just to get out of the second inning, something that limited his night.
Mike Napoli pushed the lead to 6-1 on a prodigious blast that left the stadium, but the next inning Upton put the Tigers right back in the game by slamming a three-run homer off Kluber. Upton was awful the first couple months of the season, but of late he’s been Detroit’s best hitter. The swing on his homer was smooth and quiet, the complete opposite of Napoli’s violent uppercut, but in both cases there was no doubt that the ball would leave the yard.
Despite giving up four runs, Kluber had been efficient with his pitch count, and got the Indians through the seventh inning. The biggest at-bat of the game came with two outs in the seventh, when Kluber struck out Cabrera in an eight-pitch at-bat. Cabrera missed a hittable pitch, but then was take off balance by a Kluber breaking pitch, ending the threat.
The Indians kept the pedal to the floor, scoring a gift run off Detroit reliever, Bruce Rondon. With one out, Mike Napoli singled, then started for second in what was supposed to be a delayed steal. But Rondon hadn’t started his motion to the plate, stepped off, and got Napoli at second base. Well, it seemed so, but third base umpire Pat Hoberg called a balk even though subsequent replays showed that Rondon didn’t do anything wrong. Jose Ramirez would take advantage of the break, sending Napoli home on a single.
Another Detroit mistake led to the Indians putting the game out of reach in the eighth inning. After Abe Almonte walked to start the inning, he was pulled for Rajai Davis, a sign that Terry Francona really wanted this game; usually, you’ll never see a pinch-runner when you’re up four runs. Rajai started for second, but reliever Joe Mantiply hadn’t gone to the plate, throwing instead to first. But Davis ran into Miguel Cabrera’s throwing lane, and Ian Kinsler had no shot at catching the throw. That led to another three runs, and the rout was on.
Detroit made three errors on the night, and that didn’t include two balks and Upton’s lost ball. But give the Indians credit for taking full advantage of those extra opportunities, and for chasing Fulmer early. They got into Detroit’s bullpen, something that may come in handy later in the series.
With the win, the Indians cut their magic number to 9, and now Detroit can’t overtake them solely by winning their remaining head-to-head matchups. They also ran their record against the Tigers this year to an astounding 12-1. That season series is the reason why the Indians are on the precipice of the playoffs.