DETROIT: Two weeks ago, the Indians were last in the Central Division, five games out of first place.
That was before going on a 12-2 run that has lifted them into a first-place tie with the Tigers, who fell to the Tribe 4-3 in 10 innings Sunday at Comerica Park.
Taking two of three in Detroit was an improbable conclusion to a series that began with the Tigers winning the opener 10-4 Friday night.
“There was no panic in the clubhouse,” said Michael Brantley, who had a key hit Sunday. “We knew there were two more games.”
Presumably the Tigers did, too, but maybe the Indians were a little more determined. We might have a better grasp of that notion when the teams meet next time in Cleveland May 21-22.
It would be difficult to pinpoint a pre-eminent hero for the Tribe, but it was Mark Reynolds who delivered a pinch-hit single to score Carlos Santana in the 10th with the game-winner.
“Reynolds is that veteran who just wants to play,” Francona said. “Today we were giving him a rest, but he’s right there ready to hit when we needed him.”
Someone joked about Reynolds’ bright pink baseball shoes, part of Major League Baseball’s Mother’s Day promotion on behalf of breast cancer research.
“He better get a hit with those on,” Francona said. “I know that this is a great cause, but those things are ugly.”
Asked what he thought of the pink shoes, Cody Allen, who earned the save, said, “I think they’re awesome. For one day.”
Reynolds said he was giving the shoes to his mother, Tammy, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va.
“That’s why I didn’t want to play today,” deadpanned Reynolds about the spikes.
Darin Downs had Reynolds down in the count 1-and-2 with two outs and runners at first and second.
“He threw me two change-ups to start out, but he left a third one up more than the others,” Reynolds said. “I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and make something happen. An error, anything. Basically, I was able to get the ball just past [Miguel] Cabrera [at third].”
The Tribe had to tie the score first, and that didn’t happen until the ninth, when Brantley singled home Michael Bourn with two outs. The hits by Reynolds and Brantley came on 1-and-2 pitches.
When the Tigers came to the plate in the 10th, there was no sign of closer Chris Perez anywhere. Left-hander Rich Hill began the inning against left-handed hitter Prince Fielder, who flied to center. Francona left Hill in to face right-hander Victor Martinez who struck out.
Not until then did Francona summon from the bullpen a righty, Cody Allen, to face pinch hitter Matt Tuiasosopo. But why then?
“That’s a lot of power there,” the manager said, referring to Tuiasosopo. “He’s up there for one reason.”
Allen thwarted Tuiasosopo’s intention to hit a home run by striking him out on a 2-and-2 fastball that was clocked at 96 mph.
“After last night, I just wanted to throw strikes and get ahead,” Allen said.
The previous night, Allen gave up a two-run triple.
Hill said the unusual use of the bullpen didn’t throw him off.
“You just go in and pitch when you’re told to pitch,” he said. “You go as long as you have the ball in your hand. You just keep pitching. You have to have a pitch-to-pitch approach every time you go out there. You can’t think about anything but conviction [in the pitch you are going to throw next].’’
Francona said the reason Perez didn’t go out for the ninth was his draining appearance Saturday night, when the Indians earned a 7-6 win.
“We talked to him before the game,” the manager said. “It’s a night game then a day game. Last night he put in a pretty taxing effort. So we wanted him to be honest with us, and we thought he used very good judgment.
“Chris was just feeling it, and you don’t want something to lead to an injury.”
The Tribe plays host to the Yankees for a doubleheader today, and it’s possible Perez will be called on twice.
Zach McAllister started and limited the Tigers to three runs (two earned) in six innings, despite giving up eight hits and three walks. His finest achievement was limiting the damage to one run in the fourth inning, when the Tigers failed to take full advantage of loaded bases and Lonnie Chisenhall’s error at third.
“I thought it could have gotten rough when the bases were loaded with [Miguel] Cabrera and [Prince] Fielder up there,” McAllister said. “That was a big confidence boost to me [to get them out].”
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.