Slam Sends Indians Home in Grand Fashion; Indians 4, Tigers 0

Mike Aviles broke open a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth inning with a grand slam to left and the Cleveland Indians held on to shut out the Detroit Tigers by a 4-0 final on Sunday afternoon.

For two teams who have had suspect bullpens throughout the course of the season, the ending seemed fitting after an impressively pitched game between an emerging star and a grizzled veteran.

Joaquin Benoit (4-1) took the mound for Detroit in the ninth and walked the leadoff hitter, Carlos Santana. Freshly called up rookie Jose Ramirez took over for him at first and appeared to have the attention of the Tigers reliever. Benoit followed the Santana walk with an eight-pitch walk of Michael Brantley. Asdrubal Cabrera successfully sacrificed for the second time in the ball game, moving both runners up. An intentional walk to Jason Kubel loaded the bases and Aviles cleared the bases and the fence in left, driving a 2-2 pitch out to give Cleveland a 4-0 lead.

“Honestly, it was just one of those situations where I didn’t look good at all all day. I didn’t feel comfortable so I was just going up there trying to have a good at bat, trying to get something in the outfield,” said Aviles. “I was looking for something up. I fouled off a couple of tough pitches and then, fortunate enough, I got a ball I could handle.”

Chris Perez, working for the first time in a week, made it his usual interesting effort in the bottom of the ninth. After retiring Nick Castellanos on a groundout, Omar Infante hit a ground rule double to left center. Alex Avila reached but Infante was struck by the ball between second and third for the second out. A single by Ramon Santiago moved Avila to second and both runners advanced to third on a passed ball by Yan Gomes, but Andy Dirks grounded out to Jason Kipnis at second to end the game.

The Indians had a golden opportunity to score quickly in the top of the first inning, but could not take advantage of Justin Verlander’s wildness. Michael Bourn worked a ten-pitch walk. Nick Swisher popped out to the catcher after nine pitches. Bourn stole second base before Kipnis walked. With two on and only one out, Santana lined sharply to right field, but right at Torii Hunter, and Michael Brantley struck out swinging to end the inning.

The Tribe couldn’t score, but forced Verlander to make 35 pitches in the first inning. It appeared the struggling ace of the Tigers was in for another subpar afternoon.

Meanwhile, Danny Salazar was just as sharp, setting down Detroit early. He worked out of his own jam in the bottom of the third inning. Avila singled to start the inning and after Santiago flew out to left field, Dirks doubled to right center field, putting runners on second and third base. Salazar was able to get Jose Iglesias to ground to third base and Aviles was able to retire Avila between home and third for the second out. Hunter flew out to right field to end the inning.

Salazar looked just as strong as Verlander when he worked around two hits in the bottom of the fifth inning. Infante grounded out to start the inning before Avila singled to right field. Salazar struck out Santiago before Dirks singled to right center field to put runners on the corners. With the bullpen warming, Iglesias popped out to end the inning and keep the score knotted at zero.

The Tribe had another chance to tally a run in the top of the seventh but could not come through against Verlander, despite his soaring pitch count. Brantley singled to center field to start the inning and stole second base with Cabrera at the plate. Cabrera sacrificed Brantley to third base, but newcomer Kubel struck out swinging and Aviles grounded out to shortstop to strand a runner at third base with less than two outs.

Salazar, on a restricted pitch count, left after six strong innings, scattering six hits and striking out five. He did not allow a run or walk a batter on his 77 pitches. The Indians rookie continues to be monitored closely from Tommy John surgery in 2011 and an ulnar nerve issue at the beginning of 2012.

“He mixed his pitches well,” said Aviles. “He works quick. Mixed pitches. Throws lots of strikes. He gets you in swing mode. Obviously, he has a power arm. When you have that kind of repertoire, it definitely makes it a little fun to play some defense behind him.”

“His future is obviously exciting,” said Indians manager Terry Francona about Salazar. “It’s exciting now. But when we can take the reigns off, he has that other gear like good pitchers do. Right now, we need to kinda limit it a little bit. He’s doing a really good job.”

Nick Hagadone started the seventh inning, getting pinch-hitter Castellanos to fly out to right field before Infante singled and Avila walked. With two on and one out, Francona called on Cody Allen to work out of the jam. Allen got Santiago to ground into a fielder’s choice before striking out Dirks to end the inning.

The veteran Verlander left after seven innings, also taking a no-decision. He worked seven innings, allowing just four hits and no runs, while walking two and striking out six on 116 pitches.

Bruce Rondon worked a scoreless eighth inning for the Tigers and Joe Smith (6-2) did the same for the Indians.

The Indians (72-64) return home to host the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. Justin Masterson (14-9, 3.49 ERA) will start for the Indians at 4:05 PM against the Orioles’ Bud Norris (9-10, 4.13).

Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images

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