CLEVELAND — As the wildest game of their season hurtled past the five-hour mark Wednesday afternoon, there was only one way the Indians and Tigers could decide the winner.
“It was going to end strange,” Cleveland starter-turned-emergency-reliever Josh Tomlin said.
Forgive the understatement.
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On a day that made side notes of the ejections of Detroit manager Brad Ausmus and star Miguel Cabrera, the near-historically quirky start of reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, and countless climactic twists, the Indians won 11-10 in 13 innings on a bases-loaded walk-off balk.
By then, nothing could surprise the few thousand fans that remained. Not after Scherzer allowed seven runs in his first two-plus innings — and nearly earned the win. Or David Murphy hit a game-tying two-run homer off Tigers closer Joe Nathan in the ninth. Or Rajai Davis extended the game in the 10th with a one-hop dart from shallow left field that cut down Cleveland‘s Lonnie Chisenhall at the plate. Or Alex Avila seemed to finally tuck this day in with a two-out solo homer in the top of the 13th.
Trailing 10-9, Michael Brantley’s one-out single against Phil Coke drove in the tying run and the game ended moments later on account of nerves.
With two outs and the bases loaded, reliever Al Alburquerque faced pinch-hitter Ryan Raburn, his second batter of the game. Working out of the stretch, he began the 1-0 delivery, only to pause. Ausmus and Indians manager Terry Francona later said it was a clear balk.
Plate umpire Tim Timmons made the call, Raburn flipped his bat and threw up his arms — “Do I get an RBI?” he cracked — and ‘Cleveland Rocks,’ began to blare from the speakers.
Six days after the Mud Hens won in the same fashion, the major leagues had its first walk-off balk since July, 2011. Last-place Cleveland celebrated its three-game sweep while the Tigers, who came to town with the best record in baseball, went home with their first three-game losing streak of the season.
"I don‘t even know where to begin,” Murphy said. “I don’t know if that was a baseball game or a marathon combined with a circus.”
Francona called it “one of the most fun games I‘ve been a part of.”
It was a romp from the start.
For once, Scherzer‘s $144 million offseason gamble yielded a win for the dealer. In a year that has only surpassed last season, he endured his worst outing since April, 2012.
A game that appeared as good as over when the Tigers bruised Indians starter Zach McAllister for four runs in the first inning was only beginning. The Indians batted around in the second and smacked Scherzer for seven runs over the first two-plus innings — one more than he had allowed in his 40 previous innings combined. Yet nothing made sense Wednesday, and that included what followed.
After Chisenhall led off the third with a homer, Scherzer held Cleveland scoreless over his final five innings.
Yet the game had other designs, ultimately carrying on for 5 hours, 16 minutes — the longest at Progressive Field since the Tigers needed 5 hours, 33 minutes to thump the Indians 14-12 on July 30, 2008.
It felt longer for no one more than Ausmus and Cabrera, who were both tossed in the top of the sixth inning.
Their frustration had carried over from the previous at-bat, when Timmons called Ian Kinsler out on a checked-swing third strike. Though replays showed Kinsler‘s bat did not cross the plate, Timmons ruled it was a swing without appealing to the first-base umpire for help — as is the usual protocol. Kinsler silently remained frozen in place while the dugout squawked.
“Clearly, he didn’t swing,” Ausmus said. ”He didn‘t come close. That’s why the first-base umpire is there. If he had checked with the umpire, absolutely it would not have been a strike called.“
Then, as if pining for a confrontation, Cabrera checked his swing on the very next pitch. When Timmons ruled he went around — the correct call, this time — and again did not ask for assistance, Cabrera spun and approached the ump. He was promptly tossed, sending Ausmus tearing out of the first-base dugout. The usually placid manager gyrated wildly as he berated Timmons, earning his first career ejection.
NOTES: Evan Reed declined comment Wednesday after prosecutors in Detroit announced they plan to review a warrant request accusing the 28-year-old Tigers reliever of sexual assault. Reed allegedly assaulted a 45-year-old woman on March 30 at the MotorCity Casino Hotel. "A thorough review of all of the evidence must be conducted before a decision can be made," the prosecutor's office said in a statement. ... One of the Tigers‘ top prospects is headed to Toledo. Shortstop Eugenio Suarez has been promoted from Double-A Erie to the Mud Hens. The 22-year-old Suarez hit .273 with six homers, 26 RBIs, and seven steals for Erie this season.