I declared the Cleveland Indians to be buried in the AL Central race over a month ago, but Thursday’s 5-4 win by the Detroit Tigers at least served to shovel the last few bits of dirt on top of the coffin. All that’s left is to tamp it all down and (officially) clinch the darn thing. With nine games left to play (10 for Cleveland), the magic number stands at just four.
Doug Fister pitched a gem of a game this afternoon. His final earned run line won’t necessarily show it (he was charged with all four), but 10 strikeouts against one walk in 7.2 innings of work is going to get you a quality start more often than not, even allowing for the home run ball he gave up. Not that quality starts are the best stat (or even a very good one). Point is, the level of pitching he put on display on this particular afternoon was much closer to the 2.53 FIP or 0.83 xFIP that he’s credited with instead of the 4.70 ERA that the will go down in the official record books. It just so happened that two runners stood on base when Dustin Ackely touched him for a homer.
But poor luck for ol’ Dougie aside, the Tigers actually had a pretty good all-around game. They totalled 14 baserunners (including five walks), forced Seattle pitchers to average more than 18 pitches per inning, and were able to keep clawing against the bullpen to regain the lead in the seventh inning.
Seattle jumped on the board right away in the first inning when three consecutive two-out singles plated the game’s first run. The Detroit offesne picked up their starter and roared right back with two runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Torii Hunter belted a solo homer, and Victor Martinez later doubled home Prince Fielder to give the Tigers the lead.
Detroit would take a 3-1 lead in the third inning when a Miguel Cabrera two-out single started a rally. Fielder followed Miggy with a double to put runners in scoring position and, following an intentional walk to Martinez, Omar Infante pushed a run across with the always dramatic bases-loaded walk. Unfortunately Matt Tuiasosopo would ground out in the next at-bat to leave the bases loaded.
The Mariners began the fifth inning with back-to-back singles in front of Dustin Ackley who, as you know if you read the intro, put one in the seats to put the M’s up by a 4-3 score. It was really the last time Seattle would threaten in this game, but they had the lead and the Tigers needed to respond.
That response came in the seventh inning off of the Mariners bullpen. Former Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen came out to pitch for his second inning and immediately gave up a double to Torii Hunter. He got Cabrera to fly out next, but Hunter was able to scoot to third on the play, and that would be all for Wilhelmsen. Former Tiger Charlie Furbush came on the face the lefty Fielder, but Prince got the better of him and tied the game with a short single to center field. And then, for the second time in the game, Fielder would come all the way around to score on a double off the bat of Victor Martinez.
As was alluded to before, the win puts the Tigers 6.5 games ahead of the Indians (still to play on Thursday) in the Central division and 0.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second spot in the American League. A top-two finish in the league would give Detroit home field advantage in the ALDS. (Oakland holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, so the Tigers will need to finish ahead of them to claim the advantage). Detroit is three games behind Boston for the top spot in the AL.