Those were the emotions and fortunes of the Indians on Sunday, as they at long last got a win over the Detroit Tigers. The 4-0 victory was much-needed because the Indians lost five in a row at the start of a key nine-game stretch and had lost 15 of 18 to the Tigers. The win was much-earned because of the pitching of Danny Salazar and patience of Mike Aviles, whose grand slam in the top of the ninth gave the Indians their runs.
“I’m hoping it was huge for the team,” Aviles said of his first career grand slam. “We had a rough trip, but anytime you can squeak out a victory on the last day you hope you can take that momentum going forward.”
The Indians needed something. They had lost three in Atlanta, two in Detroit. They had lost close in Atlanta, badly in Detroit, and the losses were starting to pile up because September had arrived and only so many games remain.
They carried on with the belief they could win. Sunday they did just that, though Justin Verlander made it tough by holding the Indians scoreless through seven innings.
Salazar, though, matched him, throwing 77 pitches in six scoreless innings.
He didn’t get the win, but he did get a lot of admiration for the way he pitched.
“Anywhere there’s a pitcher’s mound, he’s comfortable,” manager Terry Francona said of Salazar’s first start without giving up a run.
“It’s almost scary, watching him get better,” Aviles said.
“He’s a very talented guy,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
The Indians had the chance to win in the ninth because Cody Allen got two outs after Detroit put runners at first and second.
In the ninth, Carlos Santana led off with a walk. Francona pinch-ran Jose Ramirez, who had just been called up from Double-A. Ramirez is very fleet — to the point he had stolen home for Akron.
With Ramirez on first, closer Joaquin Benoit went to the slide-step to keep Ramirez close and walked Michael Brantley.
“They have to respect his speed,” Francona said.
Did the slide-step make Benoit miss? There’s no way of knowing, but he had walked just 16 in 54 appearances this season. A sacrifice bunt and intentional walk loaded the bases for Aviles, who twice hit foul balls just out of the reach of second baseman Omar Infante behind first.
“I was hoping he caught it,” Aviles said. “I knew the way he was running he’d never be able to throw out Ramirez at home.”
Those fouls came on fastballs that Aviles thought he could get into play. As he hit he was thinking of one thing
“Just try and get something you can drive and get into the outfield,” Aviles said. “Get a ball in the air, get a ball in the outfield. Try and get that one run. In that situation you’re not trying to get all the runs. You take them if you get ‘em, but you try to get that one in there and hopefully close it out.”
Aviles worked the count to 2-and-2 when Benoit threw a cutter that stayed in the middle of the plate.
“I think he was trying to go away with the cutter and it stayed on the middle,” Aviles said. “I was able to get a good swing on it, and off the bat I knew for sure it was a sac fly. The way (Nick) Castellanos kept going back I was hoping that it kept going out. Fortunate enough it did.”
Aviles could not remember his last grand slam.
“I hit a lot of grand slams in my sleep,” he said.
Let the record show that Aviles hit a in 2011 for Omaha in Triple-A, though clearly it was nothing near as important as this one against the Tigers.
“I’m tired of not shaking hands after playing them,” Aviles said.
The prevailing emotion was simple happiness at getting a needed win. Relief seemed tempered by the basics.
“That was a fun game to be a part of,” Francona said. “Because we hadn’t had a real good road trip.”
The Indians now head to Progressive Field in Cleveland where they will play nine games against the Orioles, Mets and Royals. They are not in great shape, four games back of the second-wild card spot. The September stretch includes 26 games against the Orioles, Mets, Royals, White Sox, Astros and Twins. The Indians have won twice as many as they have lost this season against those teams (32-16), and have 15 games at home, where they are 40-26.
“We want to keep playing,” Francona said, “until they make us go home.”