At least you can say that the Indians’ last flickering hopes of winning the American League Central were extinguished with a bang and not with a whimper.
Shelley Duncan clouted two two-run homers off of Justin Verlander, and Lonnie Chisenhall also went deep to plate two runs, but Victor Martinez’ grand slam in the seventh inning proved to be too much for the Tribe to overcome, and the Detroit Tigers completed a sweep with an 8-6 victory.
With the loss, the Indians fall back to .500 at 70-70, while Detroit clinches no worse than a .500 season with their 81st victory of the year.
If Detroit were to stumble down the stretch and go 9-10, the Tribe would have to go 20-2 to catch them and force a playoff. And folks, that just isn’t going to happen, especially the latter.
This one was ostensibly going to be a pitchers’ duel, but the bats got into action for both sides.
With one out and Carlos Santana at second in the second inning, Duncan went deep to left to give Cleveland a stunning 2-0 lead, but Justin Masterson gave it right back in the fourth when Alex Avila drove in one run with a sacrifice fly and Wilson Betemit delivered a two-out double, scoring Martinez and knotting the game at 2-2.
But Duncan struck again in the bottom of the inning after Jim Thome doubled with two down. Duncan again went deep to left for his 8th homer of the season (Duncan also had two homers on Sunday in Kansas City), and the Indians led 4-2, seeking to snap Verlander’s nine-game winning streak.
It stayed that way until the seventh, thanks in large part to Masterson getting Martinez to line out to end the fifth with the bases loaded.
In the Detroit seventh some ugly defense reared its head, and the Indians paid mightily.
Austin Jackson led off with a single and moved to second on an error on a ground ball by Duncan at first. Andy Dirks then laid down a sacrifice bunt that turned into a base hit on a play where at least one out should have been recorded, and the bases were loaded with nobody out.
On came Joe Smith in relief of Masterson. Smith served up a base-hit to Miguel Cabrera which cut the Indians’ lead to 4-3 and left the bases juiced.
Exit Smith, Enter Tony Sipp. And goodbye baseball on Sipp’s first pitch as Martinez cleared the bases and gave Detroit a 7-4 lead.
Oh but the Indians tried to battle back in their half of the seventh.
Ryan Perry relieved Verlander and served up a leadoff single to Duncan and was immediately replaced by Phil Coke. That was when Chisenhall, who had been 2-for-20 against left handers this year, went deep just inside the foul pole in right to make it 7-6. Jason Donald then singled and the tying run was aboard, still with nobody out.
But Trevor Crowe bounced into a 3-6-3 double play, Ezequiel Carrera grounded out, and just like that, inning over.
Rafael Perez got two outs in the eighth before being replaced by Vinnie Pestano, who completed the inning and brought the Tribe in to bat still very much alive.
But Tigers’ reliever Joaquin Benoit set the Tribe down 1-2-3 in the eighth, and after Pestano allowed a two-out RBI triple to Don Kelly in the ninth to make it 8-6, Detroit closer Jose Valverde came on for the Cleveland ninth and delived a perfect inning to claim his 42nd save in as many opportunities.
When all was said and done, Verlander won his 10th in a row to move to 22-5, while Masterson falls to 11-9.
So now it is on to Chicago for four games with the White Sox beginning Friday night at 8:10. Chicago has rebounded from also being swept by Detroit to move into second place in the Central with three straight wins over the Twins in Minnesota with another game to be played tonight.
No doubt, plenty of seats will be available on the South Side of Chicago to see two teams that fell like dominoes when faced with a chance to dent the Tigers.