CLEVELAND: It was a rare day off in an otherwise unforgiving minor-league baseball schedule, but there was only one place Indians shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor wanted to be Monday — at a baseball game.
A major-league game that is, as the Aeros’ Lindor was among the fans in attendance Monday night at Progressive Field as the Tribe took on the American League Central Division-leading Detroit Tigers for the first game of a pivotal four-game series.
About a half hour before the game started, Lindor tweeted a photo of himself wearing an Indians jersey with his name on the back while sitting in a suite, with this message: “Watching the game tonight. #Letsgotribe #funnight.”
The fact that the underdog Indians (62-49) trailed the mighty Tigers (64-45) by just three games five days into August was a testament to how important the next four games would be — for both teams.
“Everybody knows it’s a big series for us,” Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera said. “We can’t think about the past, we just gotta think about winning these games now. Think about if we can win two, three or four games — not look back on games we didn’t [win] … everyone knows they have a pretty good team over there. But I really like my team here, too.”
The past Cabrera referred to was his team’s lopsided 3-9 mark against Detroit this season.
“Hey, it’s a phenomenal team over there,” said Jason Giambi, the Indians’ veteran designated hitter. “We’re going to have to play good baseball like we’ve been doing. They’ve got phenomenal pitching, guys who can hit all up and down that lineup. So it should be a fun four games. It should be fun to go out and play and let the chips fall where they may.”
The chips just might fall on the Indians’ side a little more this series with suspended shortstop Jhonny Peralta out for 50 games and slugger Miguel Cabrera’s hip bothering him so much he can barely jog to first base.
Still, Indians center fielder Michael Bourn had no doubt that Cabrera would make his way back into the Tigers’ lineup to play in Monday night’s series opener, since there’s so much on the line.
“I would hope everybody knew he was going to play,” Bourn said. “I expected him to play. And it’s fun when he plays, you want him to be out there. That’s a part of sports — you want to play against the best.”
Despite the Tribe’s poor record against the Tigers so far this season, Bourn didn’t sense his team approached this series any differently than they’d approached the ill-fated one a month ago.
At the start of July, the Tigers came to Progressive Field and dominated the Indians by taking three of the four games. Lately, however, both teams have been flexing their muscles. Detroit entered Monday’s game after winning eight consecutive games and 12 of its last 13, while Cleveland had won 10 of its last 12.
“I think we’re playing pretty good as a team right now, but I think they’re playing pretty good, too,” Bourn said. “We just have to go out there and play them like anybody else. You can’t be scared of them, can’t have no fear of them. Just go out there and try to attack them.
“They know us and we know them. The only difference is they’ve been in this position before as a team and we haven’t. But that’s how you learn — you gotta go get your feet wet. It’s like being thrown into the swimming pool and you just gotta get yourself outta there.”
Despite the outcome of the last series, the Indians took care of business regularly against their other opponents to keep pace in the standings.
“If you look at the past couple weeks, we’ve been winning every time they’ve been winning,” Indians veteran pitcher Scott Kazmir said. “But now, during this series, it’s not going to be that way. The wins and losses mean more to the standings.”
All of the players in the Indians’ clubhouse understand the importance of this series. At the same time, they’re trying to be careful not to press.
“These are games where we can gain ground in the standings, and that’s big,” reliever Cody Allen said. “But at the same time, we can’t go into the series thinking, ‘OK, this is the Tigers, we have to do more.’ Because that’s when we get in trouble — when we try to do too much. This team plays extremely well when we’re loose, having fun and competing that way.”