A 55-minute rain delay was the only thing standing in the way of an 8-6 come-from-behind victory by the Cleveland Indians on Monday night in their series opener against the Detroit Tigers.
After coughing up a 2-0 lead after two, the Indians trailed 4-2 at the halfway point. The two clubs traded runs in the bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth before the Indians mounted their comeback efforts with a pair of runs. After the delay, the Indians rallied again with a three-run frame that proved to be the difference in the night.
Adam Plutko made his first start since June 28 on Monday and ran into trouble quickly. Victor Reyes started the game with a single to right before Harold Castro sent a drive to left-center. Reyes attempted to motor all the way in, but he was gunned down at the plate to keep an early run off of the board.
Facing left-hander Daniel Norris, the Indians put up a pair in the second after the Tigers starter struck out three in the first. Jose Ramirez opened the inning with a single to left but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. After a groundout by Bobby Bradley, Roberto Perez drew a walk. Mike Freeman stepped in and got a 1-1 fastball down the middle of the plate and he turned the pitch into a souvenir as he homered for the third time this season to put the Indians up, 2-0. Tyler Naquin and Francisco Lindor each followed with singles, but Oscar Mercado could not add to the score as he lined out to right.
Plutko gave up a run in the third. Jordy Mercer opened the frame with a double to center. Reyes lined to right, moving the runner up to third, and Castro drove home a run with a sacrifice fly to left to make it 2-1.
Detroit used the long ball in the fourth to take the lead. Nicholas Castellanos singled as the Tigers got their leadoff man on for the third time in four innings. Jeimer Candelario flied to center, but Christin Stewart cleared the wall in right with a two-run blast to move Detroit on top, 3-2.
Norris struck out three more in the fourth before his offense got back to work with more support. Mercer led off the frame and continued the Tigers aggressive hitting from the first batter to the plate in the inning as he homered to left to push the Detroit advantage to 4-2. The Indians responded with their second homer of the day in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, Mercado ignored his July struggles and parked a 3-1 fastball in the bleachers to make it a 4-3 game.
Plutko could not keep the game at one as the Tigers got to him for another run in the sixth. After retiring Castellanos on a grounder, Candelario clobbered a 2-1 pitch to the back wall of the Tigers bullpen in center field. The 449-foot moonshot gave the Tigers a 5-3 lead. Plutko was hooked for Tyler Olson, who walked Stewart and gave up a single to Niko Goodrum before A.J. Cole entered in relief and got the next two batters to keep it a two-run game.
The Indians rallied in the sixth with two men out and knocked Norris out of the game. Perez singled and was joined on the bases after a base hit by Freeman. Daniel Stumpf came on for manager Ron Gardenhire, but he could not win the left-on-left matchup with Naquin as he shot the ball the opposite way down the left field line. Stewart struggled to field it cleanly, with Perez scoring easily and Freeman able to take advantage on the misplay to tie the game at five.
Rains came quickly and paused the game for nearly an hour before action resumed. The Tribe needed three pitchers to get three outs in the seventh, as Cole opened the inning with a strikeout before giving up a single to Castro. Nick Goody came on and struck out Miguel Cabrera for the second out. Nick Wittgren replaced him and walked Castellanos before getting Candelario to ground to third to end the inning.
Mercado made his mark again with a big swing in the seventh to tip the scales back in the Indians’ favor. Facing Victor Alcantara, who retired the final batter of the sixth before the hour-long stop in play, Mercado found a 1-1 slider to his liking and cleared the 19-foot wall in left again to put the Indians back in front, 6-5. The Tribe bats were not done, though, as Carlos Santana reached on an infield single and Jordan Luplow shot a single back up the middle. Ramirez came through with the clutch knock as the Indians’ fourth straight hit off of Alcantara served as a two-run two-bagger and the Indians claimed an 8-5 lead. Jose Cisnero came on and got three outs, stranding Ramirez at third.
Wittgren escaped the eighth with a double play ball to erase a leadoff walk by Stewart.
After Trevor Rosenthal kept Cleveland off of the scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth, Brad Hand came on for the save for the second straight game. But as has been the case in recent work, Hand had his issues as the Tigers gave the Indians a scare. Hand’s first pitch was belted over the wall in center by Mercer to make it 8-6. Reyes followed with a single to bring the tying run to the plate with nobody out. Hand stepped up and looked like an All-Star from there, as he retired Castro on a barreled up ball to right before striking out Cabrera and Castellanos swinging to close out the ball game with his 25th save in 26 opportunities.
The win moved the Indians to 52-40 on the year and inched the club a half game closer to Minnesota, which leads by six games in the American League Central. The Indians have dominated the Tigers (29-60) this season, posting a 9-1 mark in their ten meetings. That record includes eight straight victories over Detroit.
The two teams combined for 14 runs on 25 hits on an explosive night from downtown Cleveland.
Plutko gave up three homers, five runs, and seven hits with a walk and a strikeout in five and one-third innings before turning the game over to the bullpen. The five relievers to enter the contest worked three and two-thirds innings of one-run baseball.
Norris was tagged for five runs on eight hits with two walks and eight strikeouts over five and two-thirds innings. He was hurt by two homers himself. Alcantara took the loss after allowing three runs on four hits while retiring just one batter on ten pitches thrown.
Cleveland had five multi-hit games spread out through the lineup, with eight different players recording at least one hit. Mercado was 3-for-5 with a single, two homers, and two runs batted in. Ramirez, Freeman, and Naquin each drove in two runs on two-hit days.
“After losing the first two games, obviously that put a lot of pressure on us,” Mercado shared after the game, reflecting back on the weekend series with the Twins. “Winning that game yesterday was absolutely huge. Going into this series, you take the first game and you definitely get back on track.”
Mercado was marred in a 1-for-25 stretch coming into his three-hit night.
Mercer went 3-for-4 for Detroit and scored three of the Tigers six runs while driving in a pair on the night. Reyes and Castro each had two hits at the top of the lineup for Detroit.
Game two of the four-game set from Progressive Field is scheduled for a 7:10 PM ET first pitch on Tuesday night. The Indians will call up rookie right-hander Zach Plesac (3-3, 3.80 ERA) after making a start at Triple-A Columbus, while the Tigers will send out left-hander Ryan Carpenter (1-5, 8.36) for his second start against the Indians this season.
Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire (via Getty Images)