DETROIT: The Tigers have outhit, outpitched and outtricked the Indians all season. That’s why they lead the Central Division by 8½ games over the Tribe.
Saturday night at Comerica Park, all three elements were at work, as the Tigers upended the Wobbly Wahoos 10-5 to lift their record to 15-3 in the season series with one game left this afternoon.
In addition to Scott Kazmir turning in a performance just bad enough to put his team in serious jeopardy, Omar Infante worked a little magic that made a huge difference.
But that’s the way it’s been all season when the Tigers come up against the Tribe.
“When somebody has your number, whether it’s an individual or a team, it’s tough to turn it around,” Kazmir said. “But you have to find a way.”
Manager Terry Francona said he doesn’t dwell on why Detroit has dominated his club.
“I don’t have time during a game to get deflated,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out how to stop them from scoring. I don’t get around to thinking about that [situation]. It’s not productive.”
But you know you’re going bad when the ball bounces off the outstretched glove of your outfielder and squirts over the fence for a home run.
And that happened when?
With the Tribe down 4-2, a runner on first and one out in the sixth inning, Infante swatted a fly ball to left-center field off Bryan Shaw. Michael Brantley faded back to the wall, extended his arm as far as he could, and the ball struck his glove and hopped just above the yellow line that marks home run territory.
Giving up a quirky homer is nothing new to the Indians. Whereas most clubs go years (decades) without enduring this kind of freaky occurrence, Tribe outfielders have suffered through the ordeal twice this season, Michael Bourn being the first to befall such treachery.
Adding insult to injury, everyone’s favorite hitting star, Miguel Cabrera, sat out the game with an abdominal injury. No matter. The Tigers didn’t miss him, because Infante, of all people, hit two home runs, amassing five RBI.
How likely of a longball threat is Infante? Coming into the game, he had hit seven for the season. In his 12-year career, Infante has hit 80 home runs, in all.
The Indians caught a break of their own — a rare occurrence these days — in the eighth, when Jason Kipnis doubled with one out, and Carlos Santana launched a high drive to the outer reaches of Comerica Park’s spacious center field. Austin Jackson retreated quickly, and the ball hit in the pocket of his glove only to pop out as he slammed against the wall.
Having hurt his right shoulder, Jackson could not pick himself up and chase the ball. By the time Andy Dirks recovered it, Santana had made his mad dash to home plate pay off.
“I was surprised that Jackson got to the ball,” Francona said. “That shows what kind of an outfielder he is. That ball was crushed. Brantley got back there, too, and he almost caught that ball.”
It was the Tribe’s second inside-the-park home of the season. Kipnis has the other on a drive in Kansas City that ended up with Royals left fielder Alex Gordon sustaining a concussion.
Kazmir (7-7, 4.36 ERA) allowed Infante’s first home run in a four-run second that forced the Tribe to dig out of a big hole.
“The first time or two through the order, Kazmir was pitching from behind,” Francona said. “And with that lineup, even without Miguel Cabrera, they can do some damage.”
Victor Martinez started the rally with a leadoff single and Matt Tuiasosopo followed with a walk. Kazmir had Infante down 0-and-2, but that didn’t stop Infante from hitting a drive over the wall in left to drive in three runs. Ramon Santiago’s one-out single, a walk to Jackson and Torii Hunter’s two-out single produced a fourth run.
Kazmir kept the Tigers off the scoreboard before and after, but his one-inning meltdown was damaging. In five innings, he threw 98 pitches, gave up seven hits and two walks.
“I wasn’t hitting my spots,” Kazmir said of the second inning. “I made quality pitches to Infante to get him 0-and-2, then I got a pitch up where he could get to it. It wasn’t smart.
If Jackson felt any guilt pangs for failing to hold Santana’s drive, he made up for it by delivering a two-run triple to the fence in the eighth and scoring on a squeeze bunt.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.