This one was supposed to be a matchup of aces. The Justins, Verlander and Masterson, have owned the mound most of the year. Verlander is a lock to win the AL Cy Young award while Masterson would be in the conversation if the Indians ever gave him any sort of run support. Well for once, that actually happened, and against the best pitcher in the AL no less.
For the second time in five days, Shelley Duncan homered twice in a game. Making the feat even that much more amazing, was the fact that both of Wednesday’s jacks were against Verlander. He had only allowed two homers in a game once before this season, interestingly it was also done by one player, Chicago’s Carlos Quentin. Duncan seemed to have his number in this one, crushing two, two-run shots to the plaza in left field in the second and fourth innings.
Both times, it put the Tribe ahead by two. Outside of the two Duncan jacks, the Tribe could only muster one other hit off of Verlander, a Jim Thome fourth inning double. Verlander left after six trailing 4-2 and looked like he wouldn’t be getting his 22nd win of the season. But then the Tigers showed why they are head and shoulders above the rest in the American League Central. Manager Manny Acta sent Masterson out for the seventh with 106 pitches to his credit. Had his defense not failed him, it may have looked like a smart move.
Austin Jackson led off with a single. Will Rhymes then sent a dribbler up the first base line that Duncan kicked around. By the time he got it together, his flip to Masterson was off target and J Mast was unable to touch the bag with his foot. Everyone was safe and an error was charged to Duncan. Andy Dirks then laid down a perfect bunt towards third which Lonnie Chisenhall hesitated on. Dirks beat the throw to first and the bases were loaded for Miguel Cabrera with nobody out.
Said Acta: “In the seventh inning, our defense crumbled a little bit. We gave them five outs, and that’s not a good thing against that lineup. It ended up costing us a game.”
Masterson gave up an RBI single to Cabrera, inching the Tigers closer at 4-3. The single ended his day as Acta emerged from the dugout and called for lefty Tony Sipp.
Sipp has been rock solid all year, but his bugaboo has been the home run ball. Acta called for Sipp to turn Victor Martinez around to the right side. In Monday’s 4-2 Tigers win, Victor’s three-run homer was the dagger to the Tribe season. On Sipp’s first pitch, a get-me-over fastball right down the middle, Martinez delivered the death knell; a grand slam to the bleachers in left to put the Tigers ahead for good. I swear you could hear “taps” being played as Victor took his slow trot around the bases.
It had to be so sweet for a homegrown Indian who had been dealt almost two years ago. He cried on his way out saying he never wanted to leave the only organization he ever knew. Two years later, he was crushing any sort of dreams they had of making the postseason.
In the Tigers three-game sweep of the Tribe in Cleveland, Martinez drove in 10 runs. The Indians scored nine.
“Victor is Mr. Clutch, it seems like,” Duncan said. “He’s the one that’s really carrying that ballclub.”
The Indians didn’t quit though, getting two in the seventh on Lonnie Chisenhall’s two-run homer to right with nobody out off of lefty Phil Coke. It was just Chisenhall’s third hit off of a lefty this year. It was now 7-6. Jason Donald followed with a single and the tying run was aboard with nobody out. Everyone in the park was thinking bunt with Trevor Crowe, making his season debut on this day, stepping to the plate. After watching strike one go by, he swung and grounded one towards first. If this were April or May, the ball ends up being a double down the line. But the Acta midas touch is long gone. Crowe’s ball turned into a 3-6-3 double play, killing any shot the Indians had at tying this one up.
The Tigers would get a big insurance run in the eighth against Vinnie Pestano. With two outs and Alex Avila on second, Don Kelly of all people tripled to deep right center, easily scoring Avila. Jose Valverde would close out the Indians 1-2-3 in the ninth for his 42nd save on the season.
Give the Tigers all the credit. They went toe to toe with the two teams – the Indians and the White Sox – chasing them for six games. They won all six and buried their closest competitors. That is taking the division by the throat. That is what the good teams do.
“They took care of business,” Acta said. “Obviously, we didn’t. They’re doing a great job of running away from us…..They’re a very good ballclub.”
So where does the Tribe go from here? They are at .500, 70-70, with 22 games left. Obviously the goal is to win as many games as possible and hopefully finish up strong, taking some momentum into 2012.
“We were looking to make some noise with this series and inch closer,” Jason Donald said. “We’ve just got to continue to play. That’s all we can do. You can’t shut it down. You can’t think about going home. There’s still a lot of ballgames left.”
The Indians now head to Chicago for a four-game set with the White Sox. Lefty David Huff (2-3, 2.81 ERA) will be on the mound for the Tribe. He will face Gavin Floyd who is 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA against the Indians in three starts this season.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)