CLEVELAND: A showdown already? No, that is not a reference to Chris Perez and potentially angry fans whom he dissed for not showing up at Progressive Field.
But most Indians partisans (and probably the players) view the first series of the season against the Detroit Tigers — presumed to be a lock to finish first in the Central Division — to be a big deal.
With only 17 games left in the season series, the Tribe has the edge, winning 5-3 Tuesday night.
Last year, the Tribe took the early lead in the standings with Detroit still trying to find its way. Whether 2012 is a reasonable facsimile of 2011 — when the Tigers came on with a rush and left the Indians in the dust — remains to be seen.
The first game between the clubs did not feature a duel between starting pitchers; rather the Indians produced the timely hits, and the Tigers didn’t. Maybe for drama, the best part of the contest was the ninth inning, when Chris Perez trotted in from the bullpen to a standing ovation.
Before he retired the side — including lethal hitters Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder — some of the cheers turned to boos when he gave up a walk and single with one out.
“I didn’t want to see either of those big guys at the plate,” manager Manny Acta said. “But he retired them.”
Then there was the issue of Perez’s weekend rant about poor attendance.
“The majority of our fans are positive and supportive of the club,” Acta said. “I had a good feeling about it [fan reaction], because when he went out to the bullpen, the people near there gave him a good reception. What you don’t want is to wait three or four days before he goes out there.”
The Flying Wallendas have nothing on Ubaldo Jimenez. The renowned family of high-wire performers has lived more dangerously in a literal sense than Jimenez, but the Tribe starter is making a good living by tempting the baseball fates with his erratic outings on the mound.
Tuesday night was a prime example, as Jimenez (5-3, 5.02 ERA ) gave up three runs, five hits and six walks — count ’em, six — in six innings. Almost miraculously, only one of the batters he walked came around to score.
Maybe even more miraculously, despite the fact that Jimenez put at least one runner on base in every inning he pitched, he gave up runs in only the second inning. That rally was highlighted by Alex Avila’s three-run homer, following a one-out double to Brennan Boesch and a walk to Jhonny Peralta.
Acta mentioned that Jimenez started throwing more breaking pitches early in the count, because the Tigers were attacking his first-pitch fastballs.
“That was after the home run,” Jimenez said. “I learned something from that. They were swinging right away.”
But no matter how many times the Tigers threatened, Jimenez made the right pitch when he absolutely had to. In the first inning, Detroit had a runner on second with one out and didn’t score. In the third, the Tigers had runners on first and second and failed to score. Same situation in the fourth inning with same result.
“I don’t want to walk guys,” Jimenez said. “But once you do, you have to find a way to get guys out, and that’s what I did.”
Dodging bullets can be a valuable skill for a pitcher, but Acta didn’t want to push it. Six innings and 99 pitches were enough for Jimenez.
Tigers starter Rick Porcello was vulnerable from the outset, but to his credit, he limited the damage to one run three times until the sixth, when the Tribe scored twice and Porcello (3-4, 5.29 ERA) was forced to call it a night before getting the third out.
The Indians took the lead in the first, when Asdrubal Cabrera doubled home Jason Kipnis from first. The Tribe added another run in the third, when Shin-Soo Choo walked, stole second and scored on Travis Hafner’s two-out single.
With the Tribe down a run in the fifth, Choo led off with a double, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Hafner’s sacrifice fly.
In the sixth, Michael Brantley led off with a single, stole second and scored on Casey Kotchman’s single. After Kotchman advanced to second on an errant pickoff throw by Porcello, Jose Lopez delivered an RBI double to signal the end of Porcello’s workday. He was charged with five runs (four earned), eight hits and three walks in 5⅓ innings.
“We had a lot of good at-bats up and down the lineup,” Acta said.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. 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.