When the bullpen door swung open, Chris Perez braced himself.
After criticizing Cleveland’s fans for failing to support the first-place Indians, Perez wasn’t sure what to expect when he came in for the ninth inning with another game on the line.
As he entered the field, there was only one sound.
The roar carried him.
”That’s the loudest I’ve ever been cheered here,” Perez said after earning his 14th save in Cleveland’s 5-3 win over the Detroit Tigers. ”It didn’t go unnoticed, trust me. I’m humbled. That was really nice.”
Greeted by a standing ovation from the time he exited the bullpen, Perez worked another scary ninth inning as the Indians ended a 10-game losing streak to Detroit.
On Saturday, Perez ripped Cleveland’s fans for booing him during a recent appearance and called the Indians’ major league-worst attendance ”an embarrassment” for a team that contended most of last season and is off to another strong start.
In the ninth, Perez put two runners on before he had to face Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers’ most ferocious hitters.
He got them both.
”I like to face those guys,” he said.
After striking out Cabrera looking and getting Fielder on a grounder to short, fireworks exploded above Progressive Field as Perez shook hands with his teammates and enjoyed a save that began with his emotional trip to the mound.
”I was pumped, the adrenaline was going. It could have gone the other way,” said Perez, who hasn’t blown a save since opening day. ”I came through. I didn’t know which way it was going to go. I was thankful it went the good way.”
Ubaldo Jimenez (5-3) cautiously worked through the meat of Detroit’s lineup and lasted six innings as the Indians beat the AL Central favorites and Rick Porcello (4-3).
Travis Hafner had two RBIs for Cleveland, which hadn’t beaten the Tigers since Aug. 10 last season.
With Cleveland leading 5-3, Perez raced in from the bullpen as Prodigy’s ”Firestarter” boomed from the ballpark’s loudspeakers. There wasn’t a single boo to be heard as the right-hander kicked the dirt around the rubber.
After getting one out, he walked Ramon Santiago and when Andy Dirks followed with a single, the 15,049 fans – many of them Detroit backers – grew restless. But Perez got Cabrera to look at a third strike and punctuated the punch out with a fist pump.
Then, throwing a rare sinker on a 3-1 pitch, he retired Fielder on a hard grounder.
”We had the guys up there we wanted,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ”The guy (Perez) threw a nasty, nasty pitch to Cabrera and then Prince hit the ball hard, but at a guy.”
Alex Avila hit a three-run homer for the Tigers, who slammed shut Cleveland’s playoff hopes last season.
”We got off to a good start against them last year and we all know what happened at the end,” Perez said.
Before Perez came on, Vinnie Pestano worked a perfect eighth, striking out Avila to end the inning. Pestano set a team record for a reliever by striking out at least one batter in 22 consecutive outings since Sept. 25.
Jimenez didn’t take any chances with Detroit’s big bats.
He walked Cabrera three times, struck out Fielder once and got the Tigers’ high-priced slugger, whose $23 million salary this season is a third of Cleveland’s entire payroll, to bounce into a double play in the fifth.
It was another positive performance for the inconsistent Jimenez, who allowed three runs and three hits and managed to work around his lack of control. He walked six, but was only burned by one of them as a one-out pass set up Avila’s homer in the second.
Porcello gave up four earned runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.
Before the game, Perez said the Tigers would be ”a good measuring stick” and tried to soften some of his previous comments about Cleveland’s fans by saying he wanted to stay with the team and that his motives for speaking out were not to be traded.
Afterward, Perez said he had no regrets about his comments, which touched off all kinds of emotions in Cleveland.
”I said a lot of stuff the last couple days. I meant every word of it,” he said. ”Sometimes it’s not fun playing anywhere. I’m here. I’m here for the long haul. I know the fans are going to come back. At that point in time, I was frustrated and I vented. The fans have always been good to me. Some fans have said it’s not all of us it’s some of us, and I understand that.
”I know our fans are faithful and die-hards. They just need a little kick in the butt sometimes.”
Notes: The Indians are 11-4 in series openers. … The Tigers tied a club record by going 110 games since their last shutout. They were last blanked on July 16 last season by the Chicago White Sox. … Indians 3B Jack Hannahan missed his eighth seventh straight game with a sore back. Acta said Hannahan went through all pregame activities and the team will likely make a decision Wednesday if he can return to action. … Tigers CF Austin Jackson was a late scratch and missed his fifth game in a row with a strained left hamstring. Santiago moved from No. 9 to Jackson’s leadoff spot and Kelly started in center.