Rick Porcello is somewhat of an afterthought on Detroit’s deep and talented pitching staff.
On Friday night, he was second to none.
Porcello pitched seven sharp innings, Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez drove in two runs apiece and the Tigers beat the Cleveland Indians for the sixth consecutive time, winning 7-0 to extend their lead in the AL Central.
Porcello (5-6) allowed five hits and was never really threatened until Carlos Santana flied out to the warning track in center field to end the sixth. The right-hander set the tone for the Tigers, who dominated the opener of the four-game wraparound series between the division’s top two teams.
”His mound presence tonight, with a packed house, on the road and a team right there with you, was the best I’ve seen,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
With their fourth straight win, the Tigers moved 2 1/2 games ahead of Cleveland, which returned from an 11-game road trip to just its second sellout crowd at Progressive Field this season. But more than 40,000 fans had to settle for $1 hot dogs and a postgame fireworks show as Porcello overpowered the Indians.
Ramon Santiago had a two-run single in the second inning off an ineffective Justin Masterson (10-7), who allowed six runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings.
The Tigers improved to 7-2 this season against the Indians, who must figure out a way to slow down Detroit before the defending AL champs pull away.
”That ballclub has a lot of fight in them,” Porcello said. ”At any given time they can come back and beat you no matter how big the lead is. You’ve really got to make pitches throughout the game. There’s no easy outs in that lineup.”
About the only bright spot for Cleveland was Jason Kipnis pushing his hitting streak to 16 games.
The matchup between Masterson, a probable All-Star, and Porcello seemed to favor the Indians.
However, Detroit’s No. 5 starter, who had lost his three previous starts and is often overlooked on a staff with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, silenced the Indians and a sedated a huge crowd that came out to see if this Cleveland team was ready to challenge the defending division champs.
At least on this night, the Tigers were too much for the Indians, who are just 18-29 against teams with winning records.
Before the game, Leyland and Cleveland’s Terry Francona both dismissed the idea that this four-game set was critical.
”I don’t really pay that much attention to the standings until September,” Leyland said. ”If this was a four-game series in September, I’d say it’s probably a big series but I would not say that on July 5.”
Porcello took a three-hitter into the sixth when Kipnis and Nick Swisher singled with one out. Porcello could have ended the inning with a double play, but his throw to second was high, allowing Michael Brantley to reach on a fielder’s choice.
Santana followed with a drive to deep center that Austin Jackson ran down a few feet short of the wall, ending Cleveland’s best threat off Porcello.
”He worked ahead,” Francona said of Porcello, who won for the first time since June 14. ”He threw strike one. He reached back for extra velocity when he needed it.”
Peralta’s two-run double in the fifth put Detroit ahead 6-0 and chased Masterson, who had pitched his major league-leading third shutout in his previous start against the White Sox.
Andy Dirks walked with one out and moved up on a wild pitch before Masterson retired Miguel Cabrera on a grounder for the second out. However, Prince Fielder drew a four-pitch walk and Martinez followed with an RBI single to make it 4-0.
Up came Peralta, who had gone just 1 of 17 (.059) with zero RBIs in his career against Masterson. But he lined a 1-0 pitch into the gap in right-center to easily score Fielder and Martinez, the Tigers’ two slowest runners.
Cabrera’s RBI single put the Tigers up 3-0 and continued Detroit’s trend of quickly jumping ahead of the Indians this season.
Dirks doubled leading off and Cabrera followed by grounding a hard single under diving shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera’s glove and into left-center for his 86th RBI. Through nine games so far in 2013, the Tigers have outscored the Indians 32-10 in the first four innings.
Santiago, who entered the series batting just .169, helped Detroit get off to a fast start.
The Tigers loaded the bases in the second on a fielder’s choice, single and two-out walk before Santiago, with just one hit in 14 career at-bats against Masterson, lined the first pitch to center, scoring Peralta and Don Kelly.
”When the sinker is up, anyone can hit it,” Masterson said. ”It doesn’t matter what the numbers are.”
NOTES: Kipnis also has reached base safely in 36 games in a row. … Following the game, the Tigers activated RHP Anibal Sanchez (strained shoulder) to start Saturday. He’ll face Indians RHP Carlos Carrasco, who was recalled from Triple-A Columbus. To make room for Sanchez, the Tigers optioned LHP Jose Alvarez to Triple-A Toledo. The Indians sent down RHP Joe Martinez. … Indians RHP Zach McAllister threw a 60-pitch bullpen session, an important step in his recovery from a sprained right middle finger. ”This was a big one for me,” said McAllister, who plans to throw breaking balls off flat ground Saturday and pitch three innings to minor leaguers Monday. … Santiago was 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position before his second-inning single.