The Detroit Tigers scored first and they scored last in Thursday’s four-game series finale at Progressive Field, each time piling on runs on in bunches.
It was a mere moral victory that the pesky Indians held the explosive lineup scoreless for the nine innings in between. But in the end all that did was delay the inevitable – giving the Tribe time to catch up and play into extra innings, only to lose 11-4 in 11 innings.
It took four hours and 32 minutes, but Detroit’s seven-run 11th inning finally did what its four-run first couldn’t – squash the Tribe’s spirit.
By the time the host came up to bat for the final time in the bottom of the 11th inning, they faced a steep, seven-run deficit and went down quietly as the Tigers won the series three games to one.
Surprisingly, it was Miguel Cabrera’s replacement – pinch runner Eugenio Suarez – that broke the 4-4 tie in the top of the 11th with the bases loaded, sending a Josh Tomlin pitch into left field for a two-run single that sparked the Tigers back to life.
Former Indians catcher and current Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez put the game out of reach with his 29th home run of the season via a three-run shot over the right field wall. By the time Andrew Romine piled on with a two-run single in the seven-run inning, he was merely piling on, sending the few fans left in stands into fits of boos as they headed for the exits.
Rewind four and a half hours earlier, and it felt like Tribe starting pitcher Trevor Bauer might not even escape the first inning, let alone give his club a chance to fight back to force extras after spotting the Tigers a four-run lead before the host even came to bat.
With Bauer’s lack of control, the visitor’s had the bases loaded just four batters into the game. Leadoff man Ian Kinsler scored the first run on a wild pitch, two more runs crossed home plate on catcher Bryan Holaday’s two-run single and nine-hole hitter Rajai Davis drove in the final run with a single.
Despite the 38-pitch first inning, Bauer was quickly able to reign in his wildness with a 1-2-3 second inning. He then went on to pitch into the sixth. In his 5 2/3 innings, he held the Tigers to the quartet of runs despite six hits, four walks, and a wild pitch and hit batter. That gave the Tribe’s offense enough time to claw its way to back to even by the end of the seventh inning.
By the time the eighth inning rolled around, the outcome came down to a game of who would strike first again. It’s a bet that often favors the Indians thanks to having one of the best bullpens in baseball. But as Indians fans have come to know all too well these days, all bets are off when it comes to their division rivals.
Starting pitcher Max Scherzer held the Indians to a lone run through the first five innings, his only blemish coming on a Michael Brantley leadoff double and Yan Gomes sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Even though Scherzer surpassed 100 pitches as he pitched into the sixth inning, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus stuck with him, perhaps figuring that Scherzer at 70 or 80 percent is better than many starters at 100, especially with a mediocre bullpen that hasn’t been very reliable in middle relief.
So, Ausmus stuck with Scherzer, who went on to throw a season-high 124 pitches as the Indians made him work, scoring two sixth-inning runs. Gomes picked up his second RBI of the game on a groundout that plated Carlos Santana. Lonnie Chisenhall pulled the Tribe to within a run on a single up the left side of the infield between third and short that scored Jason Kipnis.
The Indians pulled even at four-runs a piece in the seventh against reliever Al Alburquerque. Michael Bourn singled to left field with one out. Two batters later, Ausmus brought in left-hander Blaine Hardy to face the left-handed hitting Brantley. But Brantley beat the statistical odds with his game-tying double.
The Tribe had a shot at winning the game in regulation, when Bourn beat out a slow chopper at first with one out. But he was caught trying to nab second with two outs and one of the club’s best batters at the plate in Brantley.
Similarly, the Tigers had their first chance to end the game in the 10th when Cabrera picked up his first hit of the night – a double into left centerfield against Tribe reliever Scott Atchison. After an intentional walk to Victor Martinez for the second time of the game, J.D. Martinez’s fielder’s choice put runners at the corners with one out.
But Atchison showed why he could be the Tribe's unsung MVP this season, wiggling his way out of the jam to push the bullpen’s scoreless innings on the night to 4 2/3 before it imploded in the lengthy 11th.