A late rally fell short for the Cleveland Indians on Thursday afternoon as the Detroit Tigers claimed a 3-2 victory in the 2021 Major League Baseball season opener from Comerica Park.
The Tigers dealt Shane Bieber a loss in his first start of the season, something that required ten outings and happened just once during his historic 2020 campaign. On a day with a first pitch temperature of 31 degrees and flurries abound, Detroit jumped out to a first inning lead, padded it in the next frame, and kept the pedestrian Cleveland offense at bay until the final frame of the day.
Cleveland squandered an early opportunity against Detroit starter Matthew Boyd, who made his second straight Opening Day start for the Tigers. Cesar Hernandez climbed up the ladder and slashed a double to the left field wall with one out in the first and moved to third on a wild pitch with two outs, but Eddie Rosario grounded to second base in his first at bat with his new club to leave Hernandez at third.
Bieber had some command issues early in the game, which came back to haunt him in the bottom of the first. After a Robbie Grossman fly out to Rosario, Jeimer Candelario slapped a single to left. Former Indians prospect Willi Castro battled for seven pitches, but was cut down swinging for the second out. A slimmed down Miguel Cabrera stepped in with the snowflakes swirling and drove a 1-1 pitch on the outer half just over the right field wall for a two-run shot. The 350th blast of his career gave Detroit a 2-0 lead.
Boyd retired the Tribe in order in the second before the Tigers added another run. Bieber found the plate better to open the inning, striking out Wilson Ramos and Victor Reyes swinging. Reyes, however, reached base safely as the 0-2 knuckle curve skipped away from catcher Roberto Perez, allowing the Tigers’ right fielder to advance safely to first. Two pitches later, JaCoby Jones launched a fastball into the left field corner. A bad throw from Rosario, missing the first cutoff man, put Ramirez on the run and his relay throw to the plate skipped in, putting the Tigers up by a 3-0 count. With Jones on third and only one out, Bieber walked Grossman. He stole second on a ball in the dirt before a strikeout by Candelario and a flyout by Castro.
The Tigers’ left-hander Boyd was able to minimize mistakes made by a lot of free baserunners in his middle innings. Perez drew leadoff walks in the third and fifth in a good day for the backstop at the plate, but was twice erased on fielder’s choices.
The Indians had two base runners in the fourth in one of their biggest threats on the day, but Boyd kept Cleveland off of the scoreboard. Ramirez reached on an infield single before being forced out at second on a grounder by Rosario. Franmil Reyes walked to put Rosario into scoring position, but Josh Naylor grounded into a fielder’s choice force at second for the second out. With runners on the corners, Yu Chang fouled out.
Bieber buckled down after the tough results in his first two innings, allowing just three more baserunners on walks in the third and fourth and an infield single in the fifth before turning the ball over to the bullpen in the seventh. Boyd pitched two outs into the sixth before giving up a single to center to Naylor, but Jose Cisnero got pinch-hitter Jake Bauers to pop out to short.
Cleveland was shut down in order in the seventh, but had a chance to threaten in the eighth against Bud Norris. Ramirez drew a one-out walk and Rosario followed with a single to right to put two on for the five-hitter Reyes. He chopped a 1-1 pitch to short to start a devastating 6-4-3 twin killing, ending the inning.
Gregory Soto gave new manager A.J. Hinch a scare in the ninth while on in the save situation. After a groundout by Naylor to open the inning, Amed Rosario pinch-hit for Bauers and singled to third. Perez, seeing a diet of hard sinkers from Soto, sent the fifth straight heater that he saw over the wall in left for a two-run home run, matching his home run output from all of last season while making it a 3-2 contest. Andres Gimenez grounded to second for the second out of the frame, but another new face on the roster, Ben Gamel, worked a five-pitch walk in his second plate appearance after taking over for Jordan Luplow in the leadoff spot to keep the hope afloat for Hernandez. He stayed alive with four foul balls in a seven-pitch at bat before popping out to second to close the door on day one of the season.
Bieber (0-1, 4.50 ERA) became just the fourth pitcher ever to record at least a dozen strikeouts in multiple Opening Day nods (joining Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson, and Nolan Ryan). He worked six innings, giving up three runs on five hits. He walked three along the way while striking out 12 in a 95-pitch effort.
“It was pretty typical Bieber,” Tribe skipper Terry Francona said postgame. “A lot of strikeouts, really sharp. Threw some really good breaking balls. I thought he looked a lot like Bieber.”
Bryan Shaw and James Karinchak both worked scoreless frames behind Bieber, allowing a walk each while striking out a batter to give Cleveland pitchers 14 Ks on the day. The Tigers were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight against Tribe pitching.
The biggest concern about the Cleveland roster coming in to the year was readily on display on Thursday as the bats struggled to find any success against Boyd and the early relievers from the Tigers bullpen. Boyd lasted five and two-thirds innings, allowing three hits and four walks while striking out a pair while proving far more reliable than he was during a rough effort a season ago. Like Bieber, he was charged with a pair of wild pitches. Tigers pitching helped the Indians bats leave nine men on base while going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Perez reached three times in four trips for the Tribe, drawing two walks and hitting a home run around a strikeout. Hernandez and Ramirez each reached via hit and walk.
Both teams will take Friday off before more favorable weather arrives to the region ahead of the final two games of the season opening series from Comerica. Zach Plesac (4-2, 2.28 ERA in eight starts in 2020) will draw the starting nod for the Tribe on Saturday against Detroit’s Julio Teheran (0-4, 10.05 ERA in ten games last season) in a 1:10 PM ET first pitch.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images