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.

8 Comments

  • Steve Alex says:

    What a great game by Jimenez. Everyone just assumed that Verlander would dominate and the Tigers would roll, and the Indians upstaged them. I have a question for our experts, though. Why does Francona not use Brian Shaw as a 7th inning setup man in pressure situations like last night? He has good numbers and throws a great ball, and has more experience than Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone, both of whom imploded last night. Joe Smith talked in Spring Training about Shaw helping him with the 7th inning and being very good, and with Pestano out he seems like the logical choice, but I never see Shaw out there after the 6th inning unless its a blowout.

  • Sean Porter says:

    Confirming that baseball indeed is a strange game, the Indians over Verlander’s career have actually done very well against him. He’s 14-14 vs the Tribe, with an ERA over 4.50.

    I’m still never thrilled when his name is listed in the pitching matchup vs us, of course, but all and all the Indians have had his number, as well as anyone could I suppose.

  • Joe Jackson says:

    So the question is now that we are in frist place, who will show up at Progressive field Monday? I drove up last week from c-bus 2 hours up 2 hours back and myself and 9845 others were at the game CLEVELAND are you going to show up to support your INDIANS?????????????

  • Susan Petrone says:

    I’m wondering the same thing, Joe. I watched Trevor Bauer start against Cliff Lee a week and a half ago. It was a gorgeous spring evening–we were sitting in t-shirts at 8:30. There were fewer than 13,000 people there. That’s just ridiculous.

  • Sean Porter says:

    I’ve been fighting with guys I know about this for years… “But the ticket prices are too high! Look at all the construction around the ballpark! The Dolans suck! (well, they may have had a point there…) The economy!”

    My response: The Indians can’t outdraw the Pittsburgh Pirates. A team in the rust-belt, just like us. A team who hasn’t had a winning season since… wait for it… the FIRST Bush was President!

    This is not the ’95 Indians. What this team is though, is a very likable, talented team that should be in playoff contention for a good point of the season, if not the entire season.

    THIS team deserves our patronage.

  • Susan Petrone says:

    @Sean, I wrote a post about the cost of going to a ballgame last season. Sadly, it’s still relevant: http://itspronouncedlajaway.com/?p=4765

    When you can buy a ticket for $10 and even bring some food into the ballpark, why not go to a game?

  • Sean Porter says:

    I was listening to 92.3 tonight while driving and the topic of attendance came up. The excuse of “well everyone is really busy nowadays” was actually used as a valid excuse. I wanted to drive my car off the road into a building, this was how stupid the conversation was.

    I mean, really? Northeast Ohio is the busiest location in the country apparently? Parents of kids in Kansas City, Detroit, etc don’t have to taxi their kids to baseball practice, band lessons? People in Pittsburgh are never asked to work overtime at work?

    Sigh.

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