A three-run home run from Jason Kipnis with two outs in the top of the ninth gave the Cleveland Indians a 4-1 win over the Detroit Tigers in their first of three games this weekend at Comerica Park.
Neither Trevor Bauer nor Michael Fulmer deserved to take a loss in a well-pitched game between the two right-handers, and neither would take a defeat on their own stat sheets in a pair of deep starts. Fulmer’s Tigers, however, would go home the losers on Friday, as closer Shane Greene could not keep the Cleveland offense in check in the ninth, as he allowed two big base runners before Kipnis put the game away with a monstrous clout to one of the deepest parts of the expansive yard in Motown.
Both clubs had mustered single tallies throughout the game, with the Tigers taking an early lead with a first inning run and the Indians matching the effort with one of their own in the fourth. Each club then went silent at the plate, with reliever Joe Jimenez coming on for Fulmer with a perfect eighth inning.
In the ninth, the Indians followed the recipe for scoring for the day by getting back-to-back hits to claim their first lead. With Greene on in the non-save situation, he retired Michael Brantley on a pop up in foul territory to third. Jose Ramirez worked a walk, but Edwin Encarnacion skied an infield pop to second for the second out. Yonder Alonso knocked a 3-2 single to right, moving Ramirez to third. The Tribe third baseman took a huge turn down the third base line and nearly got into a dangerous spot, but he was able to retreat to the bag while Alonso advanced to second on the throw home. Kipnis got a pair of sliders and sent the second high and deep to right-center, clearing the big outfield wall with a go-ahead shot. Lonnie Chisenhall lined out to center to send Cody Allen to the mound for the Indians, and he retired the Tigers with a pair of strikeouts and a lineout after walking the leadoff man Niko Goodrum.
The Indians’ lead in the American League Central grew to five games over the Tigers with the win. The Indians are now 33-28 on the year and have won three straight. The Tigers dropped to 30-35 with the defeat.
Before the late inning dramatics, the game was perfect for those who like a good pitching battle. Bauer was fantastic, giving the Tribe eight innings of one-run baseball while striking out 12, his fifth double-digit strikeout game (and fourth in his last five starts) to match Gerrit Cole for the league lead this season.
Brantley reached on an infield single against Fulmer in the first, but the righty held him at first with a fly out and a swinging strikeout of Encarnacion. The Tigers immediately put a run on the board in the bottom half, when Leonys Martin and Nicholas Castellanos hit back-to-back doubles to give Detroit a 1-0 lead. Bauer buckled down with the second runner in scoring position, striking out Miguel Cabrera before a pair of outs in the air.
Bauer faced some trouble in the second after the Indians went down in order in the top half. With two outs, Jose Iglesias continued his good hitting against Bauer in his career with a double to center. Dixon Machado walked after falling behind in the count 0-2, but Bauer went heavy curveball three times to Martin to strike him out to strand a pair. Detroit got a one-out single from Cabrera in the third, but Bauer struck out a pair and avoided further trouble.
In the fourth, the Indians tied the game with a quick two-out rally. Encarnacion extended his on-base streak to 14 straight games with a single to center and he charged all the way home on a double to the gap by Alonso. The Tribe first baseman was tagged out in a run-down after aggressively trying to make his way to third on the gapper for the final out, but the game was tied up at one.
Bauer retired the side in order for the first time in the fourth and did it again in the fifth with a pair of swinging strikeouts of Martin and Castellanos to end the frame. The Indians offense struggled, as they got a one-out single from Chisenhall in the fifth, but were retired in order in the sixth.
The Indians starter got into trouble again in the sixth, but escaped unharmed. Cabrera singled to start the inning and, after a strikeout of Jeimer Candelario, moved to third on a single to right by Victor Martinez. Goodrum struck out swinging for the second out and James McCann flied to Brantley to leave men on the corners.
The Indians’ bats again could do little against Fulmer, getting a single from Alonso with one out in the seventh. The Detroit hurler struck out Encarnacion before that base hit, and responded with Ks of Kipnis and Chisenhall to keep the game knotted at one.
Bauer struck out a pair in the seventh and Jimenez did the same out of the Tigers bullpen to start the eighth. Bauer made a somewhat surprising return to the mound in the bottom of the eighth, and needed just seven pitches to set down the Tigers, getting Cabrera to fly to left, Candelario to ground to first, and Martinez to ground to short in his final inning of work before Cleveland would take the lead in the next half inning.
Bauer improved to 5-4 on the year with his eight-inning performance. He threw 113 pitches, with 80 crossing for strikes. He faced 32 batters, striking out 12 of them, and threw 24 first pitch strikes on the game. Fulmer took a tough no-decision after allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings. The Tigers have scored just 41 runs in his 13 starts this season, including three or less seven times.
Alonso was the offensive workhorse for the Tribe on Friday, going 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Kipnis led the team with three RBI, but struck out in two of his other three plate appearances. The Indians drew just one walk off of the three Tigers pitchers and had only one opportunity to bat with a runner in scoring position (Kipnis’ three-run homer).
Martin and Cabrera each had a single and a double for the Tigers, with Martin scoring the only run of the night. Castellanos had the RBI with his double, then struck out in his next three at bats for the hat trick.
All five runs scored in the ball game came courtesy of the only three back-to-back hits on the night.
Game two of the three-game set will take place on Saturday afternoon in a 4:10 PM ET start from downtown Detroit. The Tigers will send right-hander Mike Fiers (5-3, 4.33 ERA) to the mound against the Tribe’s Mike Clevinger (4-2, 3.36).
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