CLEVELAND: After having their bell rung by the Tigers in the first two games of the series, blowing a 6-1 lead in Sunday’s game was almost too painful for the Indians and their faithful to contemplate.
But they didn’t have to contemplate such a calamitous loss for long, thanks to Michael Brantley, whose two-run homer in the eighth catapulted the Whiplashed Wahoos to a 9-6 win at Progressive Field.
“It would have been tough to go home with that loss,” manager Terry Francona said.
But it was touch and go for a while, as each good thing seemed to be followed by a bad one, then something even worse. In this case, the bullpen suffered one of its too-frequent meltdowns.
“They’re never out of it,” Francona said, speaking of the Tigers. “Fortunately, we keep playing.”
Brantley was practically a one-man offense, driving in five runs and scoring three.
His two-run double in the first was one of two huge hits that sparked a four-run rally. The other was Carlos Santana’s two-run homer, his 11th of the season.
In the sixth, Brantley’s leadoff home run put the Tribe ahead 6-1, an advantage that was wiped away when Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano combined to give up four runs and let in one for Corey Kluber in the seventh and eighth innings.
But all was forgiven when Brantley went deep again in the eighth for his seventh home run of the season.
“I thought this was a big win for the team,” Brantley said. “I was happy to be a part of it.”
Brantley’s swing almost never varies. It is short, uncomplicated and consistent. He probably has never swung so hard as to knock himself off balance, so swinging for the fences is not an option for him.
“I just try to put a good swing on the ball,” he said. “Wherever it goes, it goes.”
Though Brantley is batting .280 overall, he has been super effective with runners on base. He is hitting .367 with runners in scoring position, best average on the team.
“He’s fourth or fifth in the league with runners on base,” Francona said. “And wherever you put him in the lineup, he’s going to give you good at-bats. I think he likes it with men on base. He doesn’t change [his swing or approach]. He doesn’t try to do too much.”
Because Brantley has not been a major run producer in his first three full seasons in the big leagues, maybe he flies a little under the radar.
“Not with their manager,” Francona said, referring to Jim Leyland. “He was commenting this morning how much he likes Brantley.”
Lonnie Chisenhall made it four home runs for the Indians when he led off the second inning with his fifth homer of the season.
Kluber solid, relief not
The final score doesn’t reflect it, but the Indians received excellent pitching from Kluber, who held Detroit to two runs, five hits and one walk over 6⅓ innings.
When Kluber gave up a solo homer to Miguel Cabrera with two outs in the first inning, it looked like the Tribe might be in for another thrashing.
Keep in mind that the Tigers took the first two games of the series by scores of 7-0 and 9-4, and the Royals triggered the Indians’ four-game skid with 10-7 and 6-5 wins in the final two games of a three-game set in Kansas City.
The pitch Cabrera hit out of the park was a fastball on the inside part of the plate – so inside it might have been a ball – not an easy pitch to drive.
“We wanted him throwing inside, so their guys couldn’t get their arms extended,” Francona said. “I think that pitch was inside off the plate, and Cabrera hit it a long way. But when you can throw inside with our best velocity, that’s very impressive.”
Added Kluber, “The idea was to not stray from the game plan, not to get tentative with the fastball.”
Trouble loomed when Smith relieved Kluber with one out and a runner on second in the seventh. By the time the inning ended, Smith had allowed three consecutive hits and the Tigers had two runs.
Pestano took over in the eighth and gave up a three-run blast to Torii Hunter, tying the score.
Is Pestano putting too much pressure on himself?
“I think you can, but I don’t think I am,” he said. “I’m trying to miss bats, I’m trying to sneak pitches past people [instead of being aggressive with the fastball]. I just hope this is the last wake-up call I’m going to need. I like my teammates to have confidence in me.”
Since Pestano came off the disabled list May 17 with a sore elbow, he has compiled a 5.66 ERA and given up five home runs in 20⅔ innings.