Indians know they need to start winning...now
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have been talking for a month about improvement coming from guys they have playing to their potential.
Tueday night in a game that had a lot more of a serious feel than your typical July game, they got some of those guys to do that.
As a result they took an important first step in a three-game series against Detroit, winning the opener 3-2 behind Ubaldo Jimenez and the bullpen to move within three games of the first-place Tigers and White Sox.
This game that had a lot and started amidst talk of the Indians falling out of contention and Detroit running away with the AL Central. The Tigers came to town fresh off a trade that gave them a second baseman and a starting pitcher.
Over, the pundits said, much like they said in the offseason when Detroit added Prince Fielder to its lineup. But back then Jason Kipnis posted on Twitter "the bigger they are …" and the Indians maintained that attitude Tuesday night.
There was a suicide squeeze, Travis Hafner legging out a triple and Jimenez pitching what might have been his most important game as an Indian.
"Everybody knows what's at stake," Jimenez said. "We want to win the division. If we're going to do it we have to start right here."
Because of two factors: The Indians can't fall much farther behind, and losing two of three or being swept by Detroit would do just that.
"We'll try to cut it down a game here, a game there," manager Manny Acta said. "We'll show up tomorrow and try to get another one."
The other factor relates to trades, or lack of. Detroit and Chicago both helped themselves, the Tigers by adding Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez (3.94 ERA in 19 starts for Miami) to give them, presumably, the same kind of boost that Doug Fister gave them last season. Chicago added relief pitcher Brett Myers to go with Kevin Youkilis.
The Indians have welcomed back Robert Hernandez from false identity issues in the Dominican; he'll be eligible to pitch again Aug. 11. Tuesday they traded for Brent Lillibridge, the guy Chicago traded to acquire Youkilis, the guy who arrives with a career .212 batting average.
Those moves clearly are not ones the Indians would rely on to win a division, but they may be the only moves made this season.
Trades don't always happen, and Cleveland made a huge move a year ago when they gave up two first-round draft pick pitchers to get Jimenez.
He has been up and down since he joined the Indians -- he's 8-9 this season -- but against the Tigers he has been all that. Tuesday he let the leadoff hitter on in five of six innings, but did not give up a run. In his three starts against Detroit he's 2-0 with a no-decision Tuesday (because Joe Smith gave up a game-tieing home run to Miguel Cabrera) and a 1.93 ERA.
"A guy with stuff," Acta said. "And a good repertoire."
It would be better if the repertoire were more consistent, but it's best not to quibble.
Prior to the game, Acta said he'd treat this series like any other. But Hafner got to third on a fly to the wall -- Quentin Berry looked like Manny Ramirez going back on that ball -- and with one out Acta called for a rare suicide squeeze.
Aaron Cunningham got the ball down and pinch-runner Lou Marson scored the game-winning run. Any other game might call for a suicide squeeze, but any other game might not. And any other game was not against the Tigers, whom the Indians have beaten six of seven.The Indians only moved one game over .500, but the mood in the clubhouse seemed like it was 11.
Cleveland this season plays well enough to hang around, well enough to keep folks interested. Maybe the Indians should start playing the Godfather theme at games, because every time the fans seem ready to give up the Indians pull them back in.
"We're not intimidated," said closer Chris Perez. "We haven't gotten too high or too low. We're still waiting to catch that hot streak."