Only early rains could slow down Shane Bieber and the Cleveland Indians on Friday night, as they opened the final series of their homestand with a 10-0 shutout of the Detroit Tigers.
A delay of one hour and 41 minutes at the outset was about all that would stand in the way of the Indians winning their fifth straight game as they breezed to a big win over the second place Tigers. Bieber set new personal bests with seven innings of scoreless work and nine strikeouts as he became just the third Indians pitcher since 1908 (Herb Score, Luis Tiant) to open his career with six strikeouts or more in his first three starts.
The 23-year-old right-hander was locked in from the jump, striking out a pair in the first and the side in order in the second. After retiring the first seven straight, he allowed a one-out single to Jose Iglesias in the third, but was able to get the next two to strand him at first.
The Indians had a tough task with veteran right-hander Mike Fiers on the mound for the Tigers. After pitching well during his previous outings against Cleveland, the Indians were able to get to him for four runs, starting in the third. With two down, Francisco Lindor worked the count to 3-1 before getting a fastball in his nitro zone. A swing and a drive later, the Indians took a 1-0 lead on his 396-foot home run, his 17th of the year.
Bieber got a double play ball in the fourth after an error at first by Yonder Alonso to get out of the inning. The Tribe bats then came alive as Jose Ramirez drew his second walk of the game before Edwin Encarnacion crushed a fastball over the wall in left for a two-run shot, giving the Indians a 3-0 lead.
Bieber saw some traffic on the bases in the fifth after one-out singles from John Hicks and James McCann. A force at second left runners at the corners before Bieber struck out JaCoby Jones swinging to strand the pair.
The Indians got a freebie run in the home half. Tyler Naquin struck out to start the inning but reached on a wild pitch. Lindor flied to left for the first out before Michael Brantley doubled to the gap in right-center, scoring Naquin to give the Tribe a 4-0 edge. Ramirez would walk for the third straight at bat and steal second, but he would be left there in Fiers’ final inning of work.
Two reached against Bieber in the sixth, but again, no damage was done. Leonys Martin led off the inning with a walk and moved to second one out later on a single by Nicholas Castellanos. Victor Martinez, however, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to derail the rally.
Bieber added two more strikeouts in his final inning of work in the seventh before the Indians broke the game open against the third pitcher of the day, Johnny Barbato. Naquin singled and Lindor walked before a wild pitch moved both runners up. Brantley fouled out behind the plate for the first out and Ramirez was intentionally walked to load the bases for Encarnacion, who drove in his third run of the game with a single to left to make it 5-0. Alonso saw four straight fastballs and deposited the last one to the seats in front of the bullpens for a grand slam, ripping the game open at 9-0. Warwick Saupold came on and retired the final two outs.
Zach McAllister worked around a one-out double by Jones in the eighth before the Indians added another. Jason Kipnis doubled to start the inning against Saupold and moved to third on a groundout. Erik Gonzalez was hit by a pitch and Kipnis scored on an error at second by Niko Goodrum to make it a 10-0 game. Saupold stopped the bleeding with a pair of strikeouts to leave two on.
George Kontos made his second appearance with the Indians in the ninth and got three easy outs to end the game, getting two grounders and a pop out to wrap up his second scoreless appearance.
The win moved the Indians (41-33) to a season-high eight games over the .500 mark and pushed their lead to six games over the Tigers (36-40) in the division. Detroit has now dropped three straight.
BIG EFFORT FROM BIEBER
Bieber made his first start against a team not named the Minnesota Twins after making back-to-back starts against them. He handled the Tigers with ease, limiting them to just four hits and a walk in seven scoreless innings. His nine strikeouts were a career-best and put him in rare company in the long history of the Indians franchise.
The combined effort from Bieber and two relievers secured the Indians’ eighth shutout of the season.
Bieber was serenaded prior to his start by Lindor, as Corey Kluber had the Justin Bieber hit “Baby” playing on the stadium speakers while the rookie warmed up for his third start.
“I was laughing because Frankie was near the mound, singing along, making fun of me. I thought it was him who picked it because he was enjoying it so much, but I found out it was one of the starting five,” shared Bieber after the game. “Being able to laugh something off early kind of helps, but you still have a job to do, to go out and be serious and try to execute a game plan.”
DEEP FLIES DO IN FIERS
Fiers has had problems with the long ball against the Indians in his previous outings against them this season but had previously been able to minimize that damage to one blast a game. The two from the Indians against him on Friday proved to be far too much for the Tigers to overcome with the solid performance on the mound from Fiers’ counterpart, Bieber.
Fiers lasted just five before flying, giving up four runs on four hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
WALK THIS WAY
The Tigers’ plan to avoid Ramirez at all costs blew up in their face as he came around to score twice in five trips to the plate. He was walked four times, once intentionally, and was retired the one time he was pitched to.
The heart of the order behind Ramirez made the Tigers pay, as Encarnacion went 2-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored, while Alonso went 2-for-4 with four runs batted in on his second grand slam of the season.
As for Ramirez, his four-walk day extended his on-base streak to 29 straight games.
The Tribe and Tigers will get back to action on Saturday afternoon in a 6:10 PM ET first pitch. Trevor Bauer (6-5, 2.50 ERA) will toe the rubber for the Indians while looking for a fourth straight win over the Tigers this year. Left-hander Francisco Liriano (3-2, 3.90) will return from the disabled list for Detroit, making his first start in nearly a month after being sidelined with a right hamstring strain.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images