ST. LOUIS: Challenged by the defending World Series champions, the Indians unable to use their designated hitter, having to play on the road — none of that mattered to the Tribe on Friday night in its 6-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Josh Tomlin teased the Cardinals in the early innings, but he did not give up a run until the seventh, after a fan jumped out of the grandstand and ran around in the outfield before giving himself up to security forces by intentionally falling to the grass.
The Indians’ attack didn’t take full advantage of its opportunities against former Tribe stalwart Jake Westbrook, but chipped away until the seventh, when Johnny Damon took Maikel Cleto deep to right after Michael Brantley singled.
So it was just another win on the road for the Wandering Wahoos, who are 15-10 away from home and 16-16 at Progressive Field. Maybe the good news for the Indians is that they play two more here and three in Cincinnati before returning to Cleveland next week.
“We got a well-pitched ballgame tonight,” manager Manny Acta said. “Tomlin was aggressive in attacking the strike zone. They hadn’t seen him before and that might have had something to do with it. He can sneak up on a team, and before they know it, it’s the seventh inning.”
Tomlin (3-3, 4.96 ERA) didn’t seem like he was pitching that well but looks can be deceiving, and he was unscored upon after six innings. The only vulnerability he showed up to that point was putting runners on base after two were out.
He did it in the first, when he gave up a single to Matt Holliday and a walk to Allen Craig before inducing David Freese to fly out. He did it again in the second, allowing singles to Shane Robinson and Westbrook before retiring Rafael Furcal on a ground ball.
In the seventh, the Cardinals finally got to him, when pinch-hitter Matt Adams drove in two runs with a single.
“The key for me was throwing four pitches for first-pitch strikes,” Tomlin said.
But with the Cardinals swinging early in the count, they had to be quality strikes, not fastballs down the middle.
Tomlin did not come out for the eighth, having allowed eight hits and one walk but throwing only 76 pitches. As Acta often says, pitch counts are not useful in judging whether Tomlin should stay in the game or be relieved of his duty. He almost never throws enough pitches to actually become fatigued.
“He threw seven innings and did a good job,” Acta said. “I’m not here to accommodate guys with [issues about] pitch counts. They were swinging early, and he had to make good pitches.”
The Tribe didn’t wait long to pick on Westbrook, who lasted six innings and gave up three earned runs (four total) on eight hits and one walk. He struck out seven, which is unusual for a career sinkerball pitcher.
Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis both singled with one out in the first, and Carlos Santana doubled one run home, leaving runners on second and third. Westbrook settled down, but Brantley’s ground ball to the right side scored a second run.
A leadoff walk to Santana in the fourth eventually produced another run on Casey Kotchman’s RBI ground out. But with two outs, the Tribe left runners on first and third.
An error by Craig at first on Shin-Soo Choo’s ground ball began another abbreviated rally in the fourth. Singles by Cabrera and Kipnis scored Choo and left runners on first and second with nobody out. But Westbrook stopped the rally with the help of a diving catch of Santana’s line drive to Daniel Descalso at second.
Cabrera, Brantley and Kipnis each got two hits, and Tomlin had one, a single to right in the fifth.
“Right now, Brantley is locked in,” Acta said. “He’s swinging the bat as good as anybody. Earlier, he wasn’t getting hits, but he was hitting the ball hard right at people and he didn’t panic.”
In his brief career as a hitter, Tomlin is 3-for-4.
“It’s fun to be part of the game,” he said. “If you’re going to do it [go to the plate], you might as well be a baseball player.”
Considering they put 15 runners on base — one on a walk, three on errors — the Indians’ attack was not a model of efficiency. They were 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position, and one of the hits did not get a run home.
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.