It was the simple recipe the Detroit Tigers followed while dominating the Indians last season in going 15-4 against their division mates - strong starting pitching and a couple big blow by their sluggers.
After being swept by the Indians in a three-game series last month, the struggling Tigers reached back into the past to help gain their footing again Friday in the first game of another three-game series at Progressive Field.
It worked again via a 6-4 victory, it just wasn’t as easy as it used to be.
While right-hander Rick Porcello held the Tribe scoreless for six strong innings, Victor Martinez continued to crush his former team with a two-run home run in the fourth innin against Indians starter Corey Kluber and another Martinez, J.D., pushed the advantage to five unanswered runs with a three-run home run off struggling reliever John Axford.
“Ax started out the first two hitters 0-2, 1-2, and then allowed them both to work back to full counts," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Once he had the wild pitch to Victor, it’s kind of hard to pitch to him. And then as hot as J.D. is - he’s such a first-ball fastball hitter - and he got one that caught way too much of the plate.”
Limiting a lineup like Tigers to two runs over seven innings rates a quality outing for Kluber, who also struck out six. Yet, he shouldered his second conseuctive loss of the month after going a dominating 4-0 over six May starts.
“Seven innings two runs - and that was on a base hit by (Miguel Cabrera) and a first-pitch fastball to Victor that caught too much of the plate," Francona said. "...He made pitches when he had to and got us pretty deep in the game giving up two runs - that’s a pretty good job.”
The Indians finally broke though against the Tigers bullpen, opening the eighth inning against Tigers left-hander Ian Krol with back-to-back singles by Mike Aviles and Michael Bourn before Asdrubal Cabrera grabbed three runs back with his three-run home run into the left field bleachers.
Two batter later, Carlos Santana hit a solo blast to the same bleachers, further trimming the deficit to a run at 5-4.
“That's the character of our team showing right there,” Kluber said. “We’ve done it a lot of times and you’re just kind of hoping that we’d be able to pull it out again.”
But Tigers veteran Joba Chamberlain came on to quell the threat and the visitor's offense added an insurance run in the ninth when pinch hitter Rajai Davis doubled to start the inning against Tribe lefty Marc Rzepczynski and scored on Ian Kinsler's double off Carlos Carrasco.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Michael Brantley pinch hit against Detroit closer Joe Nathan and gave trhe Indians one last hope with a bloop single to shallow centerfield. But Nathan got Michael Bourn to to end the game by striking out swinging on a full-count, surviving to notch his 15th save.