When Indians reliever Joe Smith entered Thursday’s game against the Tigers with one out in the seventh inning, things did not look good for the Indians. Despite a solid performance from Tribe starter Zach McAllister, the Indians were down 3-1, and the Tigers had runners on first and third. To top it off, none other than the feared Miguel Cabrera was at the plate.
Cabrera took the first pitch for a ball. On Smith’s second pitch, Cabrera hit a grounder to Indians third baseman Jose Lopez, who fielded it cleanly, and threw to Jason Kipnis at second to force the runner on first. Kipnis threw the ball to Casey Kotchman at first to complete the 5-4-3 double play and to end the inning. Two pitches from Smith, two outs.
While it was nice to see the Indians halt the Tigers in that fashion, they were still down by two when they came to bat in the bottom of the seventh, and Tigers starter Justin Verlander was still on the mound. Up to that point, Verlander had been in command, giving up only three hits and allowing only one run. It looked as though he was well on his way to beating the Indians.
But Indians catcher Carlos Santana hit Verlander’s first pitch of the inning over the right-field wall, making the score 3-2. The next hitter, DH Travis Hafner, did the same thing to Verlander’s next pitch, tying the game. Two pitches, two runs.
Verlander doesn’t rattle easily, but he clearly wasn’t happy with the direction the game had taken. Lopez, the next batter, rapped a single to right. Verlander got the next two batters to hit routine flies to the outfield.
But the Indians had more hitting to do. The next three batters—Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Kipnis—each singled off Verlander. Lopez and Choo scored, and by the time Verlander retired Michael Brantley, the ninth Indian to come to the plate that inning, on an infield pop-up, the Indians found themselves on the sunny side of a 5-3 score. And thanks to Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez, that’s how the game ended. Perez made things more interesting than they needed to be, as he gave off a leadoff double and walked a batter. The Tigers had the tying runners in scoring position when Perez struck out Quintin Berry to end the game, and to record his 29th save in 31 save opportunities.
It was great to see the Indians get some timely hits. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s the first time Santana and Hafner hit back-to-back homers all season. In fact, for ANY two Indians players to hit consecutive home runs is something that hasn’t happened very often in 2012.
For some reason, Verlander doesn’t beat the Indians the way he beats other teams. He’s 13-13 lifetime against the Tribe, compared to 105-50 against all other teams. Don’t get me wrong, if the Indians had to play the Tigers in the postseason, I’m sure Tigers manager Jim Leyland would have no qualms about sending Verlander to the mound. But it is satisfying to know that the Indians can hold their own against the best starter in the league.
By winning the game, the Indians gained half a game over the idle Chicago White Sox and a full game over the Tigers. The Indians now trail the division-leading White Sox by 3.5 games, and the second-place Tigers by three.
Incidentally, thanks to the seventh-inning rally on the part of the Indians offense, those two pitches Smith threw in the top of the inning got him the win, boosting his record to 7-2. You can make the case that there’s something unfair about a pitcher throwing two pitches and recording a win, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s a debate for another day. For now, I’m content to bask in the glow of victory, no matter who gets the credit for it.
Thanks to the generosity of an old friend, a man I’ve known since we were in seventh grade together, I got to see the game from a field box seat about 20 rows behind home plate, by far the best seats I’ve ever had at Progressive Field. Thank you, Stan. Even though I didn’t know the word back in 1969, you were a mensch then, and you’re a mensch today.
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