Indians Party at Comerica Park, Clinch AL Central Crown; Indians 7, Tigers 4
Bob Toth | On 27, Sep 2016
The Cleveland Indians are the 2016 champions of the American League Central, clinching the divisional crown with a 7-4 victory in Detroit over the Tigers on Monday night.
The win continued a magical run by the Tribe on the tails of the NBA title brought home to the city by the Cavaliers in June. The Indians have overcome obstacle after obstacle, and even while being written off to some degree by those in the press, the team continues to find a way to win and persevere. The division title is the club’s first since 2007 and the eighth in franchise history.
As has seemingly been the case all season long, the Indians were not devoid of drama and a scare with just a week left on the regular season schedule as the team lost starter Corey Kluber before the game was halfway over with what was reported as right groin tightness. He was removed for the obvious precautionary reasons, but it did not stop his teammates from picking things up for him to get the victory.
The Indians started their support of Kluber early, getting to Tigers starter Buck Farmer in the second inning. Mike Napoli walked, but was erased on a force at second. After Lonnie Chisenhall flied out to center, Coco Crisp stepped to the plate and delivered a two-out homer to right to put Cleveland out in front, 2-0. The Indians would load the bases on a walk by Tyler Naquin, a single from Roberto Perez, and a walk from Carlos Santana, but Jason Kipnis grounded out to first to end the threat.
The missed opportunity looked to be damaging early on, as the Tigers got a base knock from Victor Martinez off of Kluber before J.D. Martinez drilled a homer the opposite way to right field two batters into the bottom of the second to knot the game up at two.
Kluber worked out of a huge one-out jam in the fourth in what would prove to be his final inning on the mound. J.D. Martinez singled, Justin Upton walked, and Erick Aybar reached on an infield single to load the bases. Kluber locked in, getting a fly ball from James McCann and a grounder to Kipnis from Jose Iglesias to get out of trouble.
The Indians rode that momentum back into a lead the next half inning as Santana singled to right and came around to score on a double by Kipnis to make it 3-2. After Francisco Lindor sacrificed Kipnis to third, Napoli lifted one of the longer sacrifice flies possible to the deep expanses of center field, scoring the Indians second baseman with Cleveland’s fourth run of the night.
The Tigers responded again as Dan Otero took over on the mound for Kluber after warming briefly the previous inning. Ian Kinsler singled to center and moved to second on a ground out before scoring on a single by Miguel Cabrera to make it a 4-3 game. Otero then found the pitcher’s best friend, the double play ball, retiring Cabrera and Victor Martinez on the grounder to end the inning.
Perez’s big night was just beginning for Cleveland as he led off the seventh inning against the third Tigers pitcher of the game, Justin Wilson. He drove the second pitch of the inning over the wall in right to pad the Indians’ lead at 5-3 with his second hit of the contest. But just as they had done all night, the Tigers responded with a run of their own against Bryan Shaw in the bottom half.
Shaw, who had given up a two-out walk and single in his first inning of work in the sixth, gave up a double to Kinsler to start the seventh. After he was moved to third on a grounder from Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller entered from the ‘pen and gave up an RBI-single to left by Cabrera to make it a 5-4 game. With the tying run on base, Miller came back to strike out both Martinezes swinging to end the inning.
The Indians got the extra important insurance runs in the eighth against Alex Wilson. After two outs, Crisp and Davis each singled. Perez made it a third straight hit in the inning with an RBI-single to center, his third hit of the night, to give the Indians a 6-4 lead. After Davis picked off third, Santana reached on a big error in right that scored Davis to make it a 7-4 game.
Miller remained on for the eighth, getting two more strikeouts to give him four on the night against six batters. Cody Allen entered for the ninth, getting a fly out from Iglesias, a grounder from Kinsler, and a strikeout from Maybin swinging as the team emptied from the dugout and celebrated in the middle of the infield.
The Indians (91-65) got that elusive win that they were looking for to punch their playoff ticket, while the hopes for the Tigers (83-73) took a blow in the AL Wild Card race. At the end of the day, they were two games in back of Baltimore for the final wild card spot and three games behind the first wild card team, the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Tigers are now just 2-14 against the Indians this season.
MORE ON KLUBER
The Indians ace exited after four innings of work and two runs allowed, but was ineligible for what could have been his 19th win of the season. He struck out three, walked one, and hit one batter while allowing five hits in his abbreviated start.
“He’s good, but he has a groin thing that he’s fighting,” shared Francona in the postgame ruckus. “It started getting him in the third and again in the fourth, so I grabbed him. I told him we need to find a way to win a game, but we aren’t going far without him, so we need to get him healthy and let him do what he does.”
Kluber threw just 60 pitches on the night, with the bulk of them coming in his final frame. Thirty-nine of those pitches were strikes.
Making his first start for the Tigers in 2016 after working primarily in relief for the club this season, Farmer (0-1, 4.60 ERA) kept the game close while dodging several potentially dangerous situations on the mound. He worked five innings, allowing four runs on four hits with four walks and two strikeouts.
Miller (10-1, 1.50) earned his tenth win of the season in relief. He earned wins in six contests in 44 total games with the New York Yankees, and has won four games in 23 games with the Indians since the trade.
PEREZ’S BIG DAY
Perez was 3-for-4 at the plate with a pair of singles, a homer, and two runs batted in. It was the fourth multi-hit game of the season for the Tribe backstop, who pushed his season batting average from .168 to .184 with the game-changing performance.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
With the division clinched, Cleveland will likely employ a lineup looking far more like that of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers than that of the Indians. Several players who have grinded out the long season may begin to get a little rest in preparation for the postseason.
The game will go on, however, as the Indians will start rookie right-hander Mike Clevinger (2-2, 4.65), who will make his first career start against the Tigers. He will have no easy task as Detroit sends out its ace, Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.21), who has had a resurgent year on the mound. Despite the much improved numbers from Verlander, he has had no luck with the Indians, posting a 0-3 record in four starts against them this season.
Game time at Comerica Park is scheduled for 7:08 PM ET.
Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images