CLEVELAND: The objective was clear: beat Max Scherzer.
When Scherzer takes the mound these days, he has a big, fat target on the front of his shirt, and it’s his own fault. He leads the majors in wins with 13, and coming into Monday night’s game against the Indians, the Tigers’ ace (move over Justin Verlander) had not lost a game.
But this was a game that Scherzer wouldn’t win. He didn’t lose it, either, leaving with the score tied 2-2. At least he got out of the rain, which fell for most of the game.
The Tigers won 4-2 in the 10th by administering the most unkind cut of all, a double by former Tribe fan favorite Victor Martinez, who never wanted to leave Cleveland.
Matt Albers retired the first two batters of the inning before running into the lethal tandem of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, both of whom walked. That brought up Martinez, who drove a ball over the head of Michael Bourn in center to score both runners.
Cabrera and Fielder were not walked intentionally, but Albers wasn’t going to give either one a hittable pitch.
“You’re in a difficult position,” manager Terry Francona said. “You don’t want to make a mistake, but if you walk them, a hit beats you.”
Detroit left town, having taken the series three games to one and has beaten the Tribe in nine of 12 games for the season.
The Indians had a chance to snap the tie in the ninth when Mark Reynolds lined a 101 mph fastball for a single off Bruce Rondon and then took second on a passed ball. But Lonnie Chisenhall, Yan Gomes and Michael Bourn failed to advance him from second.
“We had a big chance in the ninth but couldn’t push the run across,” Francona said.
Drew Stubbs ran for Reynolds but his speed was nullified by a muddy track.
“Stubbs was trying to run [steal third], but he couldn’t get his footing,” Francona said. “He said he was kind of spinning his wheels. But it was muddy for both teams.”
Scherzer’s evening was interrupted by a 20-minute rain delay in the second inning. As rain delays go, 20 minutes is barely a blip on the radar screen, literally.
But maybe it threw Scherzer off just enough to help the Tribe score two runs in the second, although Scherzer put himself in harm’s way before the tarp was pulled onto the field.
Michael Brantley started the rally with a one-out bunt single, and Mike Aviles singled to put runners on first and second.
Before Reynolds could finish striking out, Brantley and Aviles pulled a double steal to put runners on second and third.
It was the key play in the inning, because it put the Indians in position to score twice instead of once. But before any scoring could happen, with Chisenhall at the plate, the rain became too heavy, and the umpires called for the field to be covered.
When play resumed less than a half hour later, Chisenhall lined a single to right to score both runners.
And that’s all the runs Scherzer allowed. The Indians had two other chances but couldn’t get the two-out hit.
“You have to give Scherzer a lot of credit,” Francona said. “We made him work, we made him earn everything, but he’s got a lot of weapons, different speeds, different locations.”
So Scherzer lived up to his billing, giving up seven hits and three walks, while striking out seven in seven innings.
Scott Kazmir did his part in keeping the Tigers in check, giving up two runs, four hits and three walks in 5⅔ innings.
Obviously, Kazmir did not face Scherzer, but he understood that it was him against Scherzer as far as the fans were concerned.
“I was very aware,” Kazmir said. “You can see why he’s 13-0. He keeps his team in the game, and he goes deep in the game.”
One of the keys to Kazmir’s success was the way he handled the middle of the Detroit order, Cabrera and Fielder, who went a combined 0-for-5 with a walk against Kazmir. Only once did either slugger come to the plate with a runner on base.
Kazmir said it is futile trying to get Cabrera and Fielder to swing at pitches well out of the strike zone.
“That’s all they see is stuff in the dirt, pitches they would have to chase,” he said. “You have to throw strikes to those guys.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.