The Indians lost a heartbreaker to the Detroit Tigers on Monday evening. The final score was 4-2, in ten innings, making it the Indians’ first extra-inning loss all season.
The Indians faced Max Scherzer, who entered the game with an eye-popping record of 13-0 and an impressive ERA of 3.09. Scherzer pitched well, giving up two runs, both earned, over seven innings, but got a no-decision, his first since May 31. Tribe starter Scott Kazmir allowed two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. Until the tenth inning, the Tribe bullpen pitched well. The oft-maligned Chris Perez retired the side in the ninth inning on only seven pitches.
With the game tied 2-2 after nine innings, a case could have been made for having Perez come back out to pitch the tenth inning, but Tribe manager Terry Francona instead opted to bring out Matt Albers. Albers made quick work of the first two Detroit batters, but walked the fearsome Miguel Cabrera on five pitches. That’s excusable, perhaps even prudent, because you don’t want to give Miggy a pitch he can drive. But if you’re going to walk him, you have to be careful how you face the next batter, the nearly-as-fearsome Prince Fielder. Albers walked Fielder, too, bringing ex-Indian Victor Martinez to the plate. Martinez smacked a 0-1 pitch to deep center. Indians fans had hoped that Michael Bourn would spear the ball at the wall, as he has done before, but this time the ball sailed over Bourn’s right shoulder on the fly, scoring Cabrera and Fielder, and giving the Tigers a 4-2 lead.
With two out in the tenth, consecutive singles by Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley put the tying runs on base, but Mike Aviles struck out swinging to end the game. After the game, my Twitter feed was full of tweets from people who argued that Francona should have sent up Carlos Santana or Jason Giambi to pinch-hit for Aviles. I agree that Santana in particular would have given the Indians a better chance to tie the game with a double or triple, or to win it outright with a home run.
Francona also opened himself up for second-guessing in the home half of the ninth inning. With the score tied 2-2, Mark Reynolds led off the inning with a single. Drew Stubbs, the fastest runner on the team, came in to pinch-run for him. With Lonnie Chisenhall at bat, Stubbs advanced to second on a passed ball. I’m no fan of giving away outs, but this is one time when the situation calls for a sacrifice bunt. With the speedy Stubbs on third with one out, the Indians win on a base hit, a more-than-shallow fly ball, or even a grounder hit to the right side of the infield. Or another passed ball, for that matter. But Francona let Chisenhall swing away, and he hit a shallow fly to center, failing to advance Stubbs. Yan Gomes then struck out, and Michael Bourn flied out, sending the game into extra innings.
After the game, Francona apparently said that he had faith that Chisenhall could have driven the ball, thus winning the game with a hit, or at least advancing Stubbs to third on a deep fly. Some people on Twitter defended that decision, saying that Chisenhall doesn’t know how to bunt. But as my colleague Chris Burnham pointed out, this is the big leagues. There’s no excuse for not knowing how to bunt. If you make it to The Show and you’re not capable of at least trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt when the situation calls for it, that’s an organizational failure.
And speaking of giving away outs, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Nick Swisher’s boneheaded play in the eighth inning, when he was tagged out by Tigers catcher Brayan Pena, who alertly observed that Swisher walked away from the plate after hitting a little squibber along the third-base line that he, Swisher, had thought was foul. Well, it WAS foul when Swish walked away, but Pena waited to see if the ball would roll back into fair territory. It did, and when Pena realized that the umpire had seen it go fair, he picked up the ball, ran over to Swisher, and tagged him with it. I’m not saying that that play cost the Indians the game, but it did cost them an out in the late innings of a tie game. And when you’re playing a team as good as the Tigers, you can’t afford to do that. Not if you want to keep playing in October, anyway.
A win over the Tigers would have put the Indians back to 1.5 games out of first. Instead, they are now 3.5 games out. The Tigers won the four-game series, three games to one. The Indians have now lost five of their last six games. Perhaps they will have better luck with the Blue Jays, who come to Cleveland on Tuesday for a three-game series. After that, the Royals come to town for three games, followed by the All-Star break.