The Cleveland Indians came into the opener of their three-game series against the Detroit Tigers looking to increase their six-game lead in the American League Central Division. Winning the series would all but assure the Indians of the division title. Losing would give the Tigers an outside chance of getting back in the race. The Indians have been dominant against the Tigers all year, and tonight would be no different.
Corey Kluber started with a bang, striking out Ian Kinsler and Cameron Maybin before retiring Miguel Cabrera on a fly ball to center field. Luckily for the Tribe, Detroit starter Michael Fulmer was not as sharp. Carlos Santana started the bottom of the first with a long fly ball to the center field wall before Jason Kipnis got the first hit of the game with a single to right. He then advanced to third when Francisco Lindor then hit a broken bat single to right field. Lindor then stole second to reduce the chances of a double play. Mike Napoli then hit a fly ball to left field that Justin Upton lost in the lights. The ball then bounced over the 19 foot wall in left for a ground-rule double and it was 2-0 Indians as Kipnis and Lindor came home.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) September 16, 2016
Upton did what he could to atone for the lost ball, hitting a solo home run to right field with two out in the top of the second inning to cut the Indians’ lead to 2-1. Erick Aybar followed that up with a single and James McCann walked, but Andrew Romine grounded out to second base to end the inning.
The Indians came right back in the bottom of the second inning when Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte started the inning with back-to-back singles, and advanced a base on a sacrifice bunt by Roberto Perez. Carlos Santana then hit a two-run single to push the Tribe’s lead to 4-1 and then advanced to second on an error by McCann, who let the throw to home get by him. The Tigers were then able to get out of the inning, but not before Fulmer had already reached 42 pitches.
With a three-run lead, Kluber looked like he was setting in, striking out two more batters in the top of the third inning, including Miguel Cabrera on three pitches. This also allowed him to pass former Indian Addie Joss for 11th place on the team’s all-time strikeout list.
Things didn’t get any better for Fullmer. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Kipnis, walked and then moved to second on a ground-out by Lindor. Napoli then hit his 34th home run of the year to give the Indians a 6-1 lead. Unfortunately for Indians fans, Kluber wasn’t able to to keep his momentum going either. In the top of the sixth inning, he walked Cabrera, hit Victor Martinez with a pitch, and then gave up a three-run bomb to Upton as his second home run of the night cut the Indians’ lead to 6-4.
To their credit, the Indians answered back yet again. After Shane Greene relieved Fulmer, Naquin singled to center and advanced to third on a double by Almonte. Perez then hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Naquin and make it 7-4 Indians. The Tigers tried to answer in the top of the seventh inning, when Romine doubled to left field and moved to third on a ground-out to third by Ian Kinsler, but Kluber struck out Maybin, and Cabrera flew out to right field to end the inning.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Indians continued to pour it on. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Napoli, singled to left, moved to second base on a balk by Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon, and scored on a single to right by Jose Ramirez.
Then, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Indians put the game out of reach. Almonte led off the inning with a walk, and then Terry Francona had Rajai Davis pinch run for him. Davis quickly stole second for his American League leading 37th stolen base, and advanced to third on a throwing error by Cabrera. Davis then scored on a single to left by Perez. Santana followed that up with a single of his own, and Kipnis hit a ground rule double to right field to score Perez and move Santana to third. Ramirez capped off the inning with a sacrifice fly to score Santana and give the Indans an 11-4 lead, the final score after Dan Otero pitched a scoreless ninth.
The Indians improved to 12-1 against Detroit this season and reduce their magic number to clinch the division to nine. With a seven game lead and just fourteen left to play, things are looking good for the Tribe.
There’s been some thought among fans and the media that everything has gone right for the Indians this year, and while many things have gone their way (Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Jose Ramirez), that certainly hasn’t been the case. Michael Brantley has missed almost the entire season, and Yan Gomes hasn’t played in the second of the season half due to injuries after struggling mightily in the first half. Danny Salazar has battled nagging injuries in the second half, and Josh Tomlin was ineffective more the last month before seemingly getting back on track in his last start. Despite it all, this team has kept it’s poise through all of the ups and downs, and is now poised to not only return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, they likely will soon win their first Central Division crown since 2007. This is a baseball team that always plays hard and with a lot of hear, the kind of team every Clevelander can be proud of.