When he’s on, and he’s usually on, Justin Verlander of the Tigers is quite clearly one of the best pitchers in the American League. He entered last night’s game with an ERA of 1.53.
But fortunately for the Cleveland Indians, Verlander was by no means on. From the start, he simply could not control the location of his fastball. Five of the first six Indians batters reached base against Verlander, three of them by the base on balls. After two innings, Verlander had given up two singles, two doubles, and four walks. The Tigers were down 3-0 at this point, and it could have been a lot worse, as the Indians stranded five baserunners over the first two innings. Verlander left the game after the fifth inning with the Tigers trailing 4-1. Although he struck out seven, he walked five, something he hadn’t done since August 17, 2010. The Fox Sports Ohio cameras caught him slamming his glove in the dugout after the fifth, clearly upset with himself.
Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez, on the other hand, hasn’t exactly been Mr. Consistent this season, or really at any time during his tenure with the Tribe. He’d been pitching well of late, but no one really expected that he would outpitch Verlander. But he did exactly that, giving up only one run, a solo homer to ex-Indian Jhonny Peralta, over six strong innings, giving up only three hits and one walk while striking out eight.
But although Jimenez was sharp, the same could not be said of the Indians’ bullpen. Entering the game in the seventh inning with a comfortable 6-1 lead, reliever Nick Hagadone gave up a double and two walks before Terry Francona yanked him in favor of Cody Allen. Allen gave up a sacrifice fly, but then Omar Infante banged a triple to deep right center, which of course drove in the other two baserunners. Jackson’s groundout drove Infante home from third, and just like that, the score was 6-5.
Fortunately the Indians tacked on another run in the eighth. They needed it, too, because when Chris Perez came out in the bottom of the ninth with a 7-5 lead, things got a little interesting. After striking out Peralta, Perez got Brayan Pena to hit a routine grounder to third. Mike Aviles fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw to first was low, and Nick Swisher couldn’t hang on to it. Perez then gave up a single to Omar Infante, putting runners on first and second.
Austin Jackson banged a ball into the infield which looked like it would go through for a run-scoring single, but second baseman Jason Kipnis made the play of the game, fielding the ball and making a behind-the-back toss to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to force Infante out at second. Cabrera’s throw to first was too late to retire Jackson.
Torii Hunter’s single scored Pena from third, which then brought Miguel Cabrera, arguably the best hitter in the American League, to the plate with the tying run on second and the winning run on first. Given the way the inning had gone, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that somehow Cabrera would find a way to smash a double into the expansive Comerica outfield, or park one into the seats for a walk-off home run. But on a 3-2 count, Cabrera chopped the ball to Aviles at third, and this time his throw to Swisher was on target, and the Indians got away with a 7-6 victory.
Some good things about the game, other than the pitching of Jimenez:
- Michael Bourn went 2 for 6 in his second game back from the DL.
- Asdrubal Cabrera went 3 for 5, including a double.
- Every Indians batter got at least one hit, except for Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Giambi (who nonetheless got two RBI, thanks to a sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded walk).
- Although several times the offense didn’t come up with that big hit that would have given them a big inning, they did keep on adding runs after Verlander was pulled, scoring in six different innings. When you can’t get the big inning, it’s important to keep tacking on to your lead, especially against good teams like the Tigers.
- The victory was the Indians’ sixth of the season against a pitcher who won a Cy Young award. A few days ago I noted that we’d beaten five Cy winners to date, and a friend of mine scoffed, pointing out that four of those Cy winners were age 34 or older. Well, so what? A win is a win is a win. And Verlander is only 30.
A victory in today’s rubber match would give notice to the Tigers, and to the rest of the league, that maybe, just maybe, the Cleveland Indians, like the Wu-Tang Clan, ain’t nothin’ to . . . mess with.