CLEVELAND — It has been an interesting week for Cleveland sports teams when it has come to hitting the jackpot when the odds were stacked heavily against them.
On Tuesday, the Cavaliers had a 1.7 percent chance to win the draft lottery yet have the first pick for the third time in four years. When the Indians began their three-game series against the Tigers on Monday, giving the Tribe even a 1-percent chance of a sweep at Progressive Field would have been generous.
However the Indians might have bought themselves a new lease on the season by taking three from the AL Central leaders, including the crazy 11-10 finale on Wednesday that ended in the 13th inning when Detroit’s Al Alburquerque balked in Asdrubal Cabrera with the bases loaded.
Johnny Football, ping-pong balls coming up Cavs and an Indians’ sweep over the top team in the AL. Who says good things don’t come in threes?
In a game that had many twists and turns, it was only fitting that it would end on a balk-off.
"I don’t know if that was a baseball game or a marathon combined with a circus," said David Murphy, whose two-run homer in the ninth sent it into extra innings.
For those who are wondering about the balk, it clearly was. As Alburquerque was about to go into his set position, he started and stopped. If the umpire didn’t call it, Terry Francona was ready to run out and challenge it.
The game in many ways epitomized what was the Indians’ best series of the year. They had to battle back from deficits three times, including the 13th when Alex Avila put the Tigers on top 10-9 with a solo homer to right off Josh Tomlin, who was the Indians’ ninth pitcher of the day and was supposed to start on Thursday at Baltimore.
Mike Aviles led off the inning with an infield single off Phil Coke and advanced to second on a Michael Bourn sacrifice bunt. After Asdrubal Cabrera was hit by a pitch, Michael Brantley singled to left to score Aviles and tie it at 10. Alburquerque replaced Coke and intentionally walked Yan Gomes to load the bases. It was a 1-0 count to Ryan Raburn when the balk happened.
"I didn’t know if was going to end. That’s one of the funner games that I have been a part of," Francona said.
After being swept by Oakland last weekend and being outscored 30-6, many people were thinking the Indians could be 13 Â½ games back by the time the Tigers’ series ended. Detroit was coming into Progressive Field off a sweep at Boston and had won 11 straight on the road. However the roles were reversed in this series.
An Indians offense that batted just .192 against the Athletics, went .347 against the Tigers and collected 43 hits, including 16 for extra bases. Michael Brantley was 7 for 15 in the series and on Wednesday became just the sixth Indians player dating back to 1914 with at least four hits, three RBI and two stolen bases in the same game. Brantley helped establish the tone on Monday with a walk-off homer in the 10th and 5-4 win.
They got hits from the entire lineup on Tuesday and pounded out 17 hits on Wednesday. Bourn was 6 for 17 in the series and Nick Swisher, who was moved down in the order over the weekend, was 5 for 12. In the 10 innings during the series where Detroit scored a run, the Indians responded on their next at-bat.
"We had a (hitter’s) meeting the other day (Monday) where we talked about tightening things up offensively," Murphy said. "A couple guys spoke up about getting things rolling. I just think you’ve got a bunch of guys knowing what they were capable of and fed up with the inconsistent performances. Guys put their foot down and played like they were capable of."
The fact that the Indians did it against Detroit’s dominating duo of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer is even more impressive. The Indians were able to get to both early. They scored five the first two innings on Tuesday against Verlander en route to a 6-2 win. Against Scherzer, a five-run second helped rally them to a 6-4 lead after two innings but the right-hander still went seven innings and allowed seven runs on 12 hits.
"I love the way we battled when we got down early," Murphy said. "A few weeks ago we didn’t show a whole lot of fight and things weren’t working out. That could have easily been the point where we weren’t able to overcome that lead. I knew our offense was going to be up to something (in this series) and it was fun to watch."
Defensively things were better. The Tribe didn’t have any the first two games but had two on Wednesday that led to a pair of unearned runs.
There were things to like and hate about the pitching staff. Considering how taxed they were coming into the series, the bullpen did well. Bryan Shaw had four innings of scoreless in the three games while Cody Allen bounced back on Tuesday. Carlos Carrasco pitched two innings of scoreless relief on Wednesday but John Axford’s road back hit another speedbump when he gave up two runs (one earned) in one-third of an inning.
Tomlin, who pitched three innings, struck out the side in the 11th to establish an early tone.
"They were playing really hot. For us to go in and take care of business was big," Tomlin said.
There are two immediate questions about the Tribe’s rotation — who will start on Thursday against the Orioles (they could call up Kyle Davies or Travis Banwart from Columbus or if there’s an injury T.J. House could come up) and what has gone wrong with Zach McAllister. After winning three of his first four starts and having an ERA of 2.28, McAllister has gone winless in his last six and has seen his ERA implode to 5.89.
He went just two innings on Wednesday, giving up five runs (four earned) on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. In his past 4 2/3 innings, going back to the fourth inning of the May 10 game at Tampa Bay, the right-hander has given up 17 runs (16 earned) on 16 hits and has an ERA of 30.84.
With Tomlin and Trevor Bauer already called up and Danny Salazar still struggling with his command (he allowed five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings at Columbus on Tuesday), there aren’t too many avenues to turn to for help.
Said Francona of McAllister: "I want to talk to (pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) about it. He was on such a nice roll. We’ll regroup and see where he is at."
While Francona tends to approach things on a game-to-game basis and sometimes tries to shrug off the importance of a series, he wasn’t doing that after sweeping the Tigers. The Indians are three games under .500 and at the bottom of the division, but the outlook isn’t as dire as it was on Monday.
The key will be maintaining things. The Indians are on the road for seven games — a four-game set at Baltimore, which is near the top of the AL East, and then three at the White Sox, where the Tribe dropped three of four in early April.
"We took enormous steps this week to getting that personality and chemistry and today was the perfect example," he said. "We have to regroup quickly, figure things out and play another good team."