It took ten innings, but the Cleveland Indians extended their winning streak to 16 straight over the Detroit Tigers with a 2-1 walk-off win on Wednesday night.
For the seventh time this year, the Indians celebrated in walk-off fashion, needing an extra frame to knock off Major League Baseball’s worst team. With the pressure on to win every last game down the stretch, Cleveland got a career-long seven and two-thirds innings from rookie righty Aaron Civale and a lockdown effort from the bullpen. The offense, however, could do little to extend Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull’s eleven-game losing streak, but a deep drive in the tenth gave a victory to the Tribe.
Adam Cimber pitched the top of the tenth, striking out a pair in a solid performance to give the Indians a chance in the home half. Jose Cisnero took over for Ron Gardenhire after Buck Farmer left Puig stranded at third with the final out of his two scoreless innings out of the Tigers’ ‘pen. Roberto Perez opened the bottom of the tenth with a grounder to short, but former Tribe prospect Willi Castro committed an error on the play to allow the Indians catcher to reach safely. Bradley Zimmer took over on the base paths for Perez and he moved up to second on a sacrifice by Ryan Flaherty. Francisco Lindor was intentionally walked to set up a double play possibility and Oscar Mercado grounded to second, but the Tigers could not turn two. With runners on the corners and Carlos Santana at the plate, Mercado moved up on indifference, which took the bat out of the switch-hitter’s hands as he was intentionally walked to load the bases. Puig played the hero, driving the first pitch that he saw high and deep to right. It bounced off of the wall out of the reach of right fielder Travis Demeritte, easily scoring Zimmer with the winning run to cap the 2-1 victory.
The win moved the Indians to 89-63. They picked up a game on the Minnesota Twins but still trail by four games in the American League Central with ten to play. They kept pace with the Wild Card leading Oakland A’s, which defeated the Kansas City Royals, 1-0, in ten innings, and the second AL Wild Card team, the Tampa Bay Rays, which came back to win against the Los Angeles Dodgers by an 8-7 count in eleven innings.
Both starting pitchers had to work out of jams in the first inning. Civale struck out Victor Reyes to start the night before Harold Castro tripled to center. Miguel Cabrera grounded back to the mound, unable to get the runner home, and a Christin Stewart grounder to first left the runner on base. Back-to-back two-out singles by Santana and Puig in the bottom half put the Tribe’s first runner in scoring position, but Mike Freeman was a strikeout victim swinging, the first of eight on the night for Turnbull.
Each starter retired the side in perfect second innings, but all the game’s scoring prior to the tenth was coming in the third inning. The Tigers took the first lead of the game on a manufactured run after a leadoff double from Jake Rogers. A sacrifice back to the mound by H. Castro moved Rogers to third and he scored on a sac fly from Reyes to give Detroit a 1-0 lead.
Cleveland responded with a run, aided by some help by Turnbull, as Flaherty singled to center and moved to second on a wild pitch. The Tigers right-hander struck out Lindor and Mercado swinging for the first two outs before Santana dropped in a 2-2 pitch to right-center to score Flaherty with the tying run. Puig followed with his second hit of the game, but Freeman failed again with two on and two outs, striking out swinging on three straight sliders to end the threat.
Turnbull allowed just one more hit over his final two innings of work in the fourth and fifth, giving up a single to Lindor in the fifth before erasing him on a caught stealing. David McKay gave up a single to Freeman in the sixth, but left him at second on a strikeout by Greg Allen. Bryan Garcia walked Jake Bauers to start the seventh before a double play ball off the bat of Perez quieted any rally attempts from Cleveland. Farmer set down the Tribe in the eighth and allowed the leadoff single to Puig in the ninth for his third hit of the game, but he was left at third after a sacrifice by Freeman, a grounder by Allen that moved him 90 feet away, and a fly out to center by Bauers.
Civale got some help along the way. Stewart doubled with one down in the fourth and tried to score from second on a two-out single to left-center by Brandon Dixon, but he was thrown out at the plate on a 101 MPH assist from Allen in left. He retired the next five before walking Cabrera with two outs in the sixth, but he got Stewart to fly out to center. He had a 1-2-3 seventh and returned for the eighth, getting Rogers to ground to third and W. Castro to fly to left before turning the game over to Oliver Perez, who got Reyes on a comebacker to the mound to end that inning. Perez struck out H. Castro to open the ninth before Nick Goody used his ten pitches to retire Cabrera on a ground ball and Stewart on a fly ball.
Civale lasted a career-best seven and two-thirds quality innings, using an economical 94 pitches to get his 23 outs. He allowed just one run on four hits with a walk and four strikeouts. The Indians bullpen fired two and one-third perfect innings after him, striking out three along the way.
Turnbull was unable to end his eleven-game skid in his no-decision. He lasted five, allowing a run on six hits with eight strikeouts and no walks. The first three relievers behind him allowed single base runners over their four combined innings, but Cisnero put on three (single and two intentional walks) while throwing just six total pitches. The run charged to him was unearned, but he still fell to 0-4 on the season.
Puig led the way for the Tribe with a 4-for-5 day at the plate, singling for all four hits while driving in the winning run. Flaherty’s first hit of the season led to the Tribe’s other run, with Santana extending his new career high with his 90th RBI of the campaign.
Puig was motivated by the decision by Gardenhire to go after him instead of Santana.
“He walked Santana and he’s going to pitch to me like I can’t finish this game,” said Puig. “I got the pitch and put the ball in play and we won.”
Three of the Tigers’ four hits in the contest fell for extra bases.
The Indians will look for an 18th win against the Tigers this season and their 17th in a row in their season finale against Detroit on Thursday night. Mike Clevinger (11-3, 2.68 ERA) will look for his third win against Detroit in three tries, while left-hander Daniel Norris (3-12, 4.62) aims for his first win against Cleveland in his fourth effort this year.
Action from Progressive Field will begin at 7:15 PM ET.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images