Ubaldo Jimenez held the Tigers scoreless for six innings and one of the weirdest rallies of the year led to the game-winning run as the Indians kicked off a three-game series against Detroit with a 3-2 victory Tuesday night. The win puts the Tribe back over .500 (49-48) and moves Cleveland within three games of division-leading Chicago and Detroit.
Tigers starter Doug Fister wasn’t at his best in the early innings. The Indians threatened in the first inning, putting runners at the corners with only one out, before breaking the scoring open in the second. Carlos Santana led off with a double, moved to third on Travis Hafner‘s flyout, then scored on Johnny Damon‘s RBI single. They put together another mini-rally in the fourth as Jason Kipnis doubled and Michael Brantley and Santana contributed back-to-back singles as the Tribe opened up a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the Tigers couldn’t touch Jimenez and the score stayed static until Joe Smith took the mound in the top of the seventh. After Omar Infante and Austin Jackson grounded out, Quintin Berry battled his way back from an 0-2 count to work a walk. Miguel Cabrera promptly deposited the first hittable pitch he saw over the right field wall to tie the game at 2-2.
That didn’t last long. With one out in the bottom of the second, Hafner hit a smash off the wall in left-center that both Jackson and Berry misplayed; great hustle and a headfirst slide got Pronk a triple. With Lou Marson running at third, Aaron Cunningham laid down a beautiful squeeze bunt. Fister got to the ball but his throw home was off the mark as the Indians made it 3-2.
It was all the offense Cleveland would need. Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez kept the Tigers scoreless in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, as the Indians won their second straight game and moved to within three games of the AL Central lead.
The Good: What an outing for Ubaldo Jimenez. The 28-year-old right-hander kept one of the best offenses in the league scoreless for six innings, scattering seven hits while allowing only two walks. Four strikeouts seems a little low for an Ubaldo quality start, but perhaps that’s just a sign of the less dominant but still effective pitcher he has become.
The Bad: Joe Smith. You don’t judge a pitcher by one outing, but when he walks a batter after getting ahead in the count 0-2 and then gives up a game-tying home run there’s reason to be concerned. His ability to hold down a lead is of the utmost importance now that Chris Perez’ name is appearing in trade rumors; if Perez is dealt then Smith would be the de facto eighth-inning guy as Vinnie Pestano would progress to the ninth. Thus, the Tribe’s level of confidence in Smith could have a big impact on what the team does before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
The “Huh?”: When Joe Smith came in for Ubaldo Jimenez in the seventh, the Indians were up by two runs. By the time he threw his final pitch at the end of the inning, he’d let the Tigers tie the game. But because Cleveland rallied to retake the lead before Smith was officially removed from the game, he got the win. In other words, Smith blew the lead, then without any further effort on his part ended up getting the big W. Why on earth does anyone judge pitchers by their records?
Interesting Tidbit: Travis Hafner now has two triples in his last 41 games. Before May 7, he had gotten two triples in his previous 635 games.