The Detroit Tigers came into this afternoon’s game against the Cleveland Indians having won five straight games, all coming against their two closest rivals for the Central division crown. They came in with a left-handed heavy lineup and with Justin Verlander on the mound. It looked like a sure-fire win for the Tigers, but things didn’t quite go as planned.
Verlander was outstanding against almost every little Indian batter today, but not so much against Shelley Duncan. No, not the actress with one eye, but the Sloth from “the Goonies” doppleganger who has spent his career being the very definition of a replacement level player. Duncan, who came into the game batting all of .185 in 54 career at bats versus Tigers pitching, took Verlander deep not once, but twice and the Indians held a 4-2 lead going into the seventh.
The wheels fell off quickly for Justin Masterson, who had been flirting with disaster all day to that point. Austin Jackson, whom Masterson had fanned twice on a total of six pitches in his first two at bats today, lined a sharp single to right. Lil’ Will Rhymes hit a rocket that Duncan couldn’t corral at first and Andy Dirks laid down a sacrifice bunt so good that he beat it out for a single. Masterson left the game without retiring a hitter in the seventh and Joe Smith did the same after he allowed a sharp RBI single to Miguel Cabrera. Tony Sipp was summoned to face Victor Martinez. Sipp was holding right handed hitters to a .176 average this year, but VMart wasted no time in launching a grand slam on the first pitch of the at bat. This was Martinez’s second career four-run homer; both coming against his former team.
Victor’s blast made a winner out of Verlander for the 22nd time this year. JV has won each of his past ten starts, a feat that hasn’t been done by a Tiger since Hal Newhouser. A look at Verlander’s line doesn’t show how good he was today. The Indians made him work all day long, but Verlander only allowed three hits through six innings. It just so happened that two of those three left the park and each time there was a runner aboard.
For Martinez, the grand slam capped a memorable series for the former Indian. After connecting for a three-run homer on Monday, VMart knocked in three more on Tuesday. Martinez ended the series with a double, two homers, and 10 runs batted in.
In the span of six days, the Tigers faced the White Sox and Indians, each of whom had a chance to make up some serious ground on the front-running Tigers. In each series, however, Detroit systematically dismantled the hopes of their opponents. With now just 19 games remaining, the Tigers hold an 8.5 game lead on Chicago and 9.5 game lead over Cleveland.
Recently, Jim Leyland was asked the biggest reason his club was better on the road this year than they have been in years past. “Victor Martinez,” he answered. Sounds about right to me.