Created on Wednesday, 22 May 2013 Written by DAVID S. GLASIER dglasier@MorningJournal.com @nhglasier,writer
CLEVELAND - Monday did not produce another improbable, late-inning finish for the Indians.
Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer made sure of that as the Tigers cooled off the red-hot Indians, 5-1, in front of 17,374 paying customers on a summer-like evening at Progressive Field.
In this early-season showdown between American League Central Division rivals, Scherzer (6-0, 3.61 ERA) stifled the Indians through eight impressive innings.
The 28-year-old right-hander gave up one run on two hits. He retired the last 22 batters he faced before giving way to reliever Jose Valverde.
Scherzer struck out the side in the bottom of the eighth inning, his final pitch clocking in at 98 miles-per-hour.
“That was a dominant performance,’’ Indians manager Terry Francona said.
The Indians jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on an RBI sacrifice fly by Michael Brantley.
That would be their swan song against one of the AL’s best pitchers.
“I knew if I continued to throw up zeros our hitters would eventually get to (Cleveland starter Corey Kluber),’’ Scherzer said. “I have a lot of confidence in them. They can strike in any inning, and that’s what happened.’’
Detroit improved to 24-19 with the victory in the opener of a two-game series.
The Tigers pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Indians, whose record slipped 26-18 with a loss that snapped a five-game winning sttreak.
Scherzer got help from Miguel Cabrera in blunting the Indians’ momentum for at least one night.
Cabrera, the reigning AL Most Valuable Player and Triple Crown winner, connected on a two-run home run off Kluber (3-3, 5.19 era) in the top of sixth inning that gave the Tigers their first lead at 3-1.
“He’s a hard guy to get out,’’ Detroit manager Jim Leyland said of Cabrera. “The home run pitch was down and away. Not many guys can hit that one out, but that’s why he is who he is.”
Cabrera’s 12th round-tripper of the season followed a leadoff home run by Andy Dirks and a double by Torii Hunter.
Francona said little or no thought was given to issuing an intentional walk to Cabrera in that situation.
Kluber had retired Cabrera in his two previous at-bats.
“With nobody out, you’re asking for trouble,’’ Francona said.
The starting pitchers had the upper hands through the first four innings.
Making only his second career start against the Tigers, Kluber faced 13 batters in the first four innings, one over the minimum.
“Corey was extremely aggressive and crisp,’’ Francona said.
Kluber danced with danger in the top of the fifth inning. Former Indian Victor Martinez reached on a leadoff single. He moved up to second base on a single by another former Indian, Jhonny Peralta.
The threat by the Tigers fizzled when Kluber fanned Matt Tulasosopo and got Alex Avila and Omar Infante on fly balls to center field.
Then came the fateful top of the sixth.
“I made three mistakes,’’ Kluber said. “They are good hitters and took advantage of the mistakes.’’
When his work was done after 6 1/3 innings, Kluber had given up three runs, all earned, on eight hits. He didn’t walk a batter and posted career-high totals of eight strikeouts and 111 pitches.
The Tigers pushed across two insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning.
Scherzer upped his lifetime record against the Indians to 7-4. He also bettered the Indians and Kluber in Detroit on May 10. The Tigers were 10-4 winners in that game.