Indians stun Verlander to stay in Central hunt
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians kept themselves in the playoff hunt Thursday night in the most stunning of ways.
They did it by turning things around on Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the seventh, scoring four runs while Verlander was throwing in the high 90s.
Down 3-1, the Indians sent nine to the plate, hit back-to-back home runs and turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead -- and victory.
"That inning kind of came out of nowhere," said Travis Hafner, whose home run followed Carlos Santana's. "But everybody contributed and the place was rocking."
It happened at a time when Verlander usually is cranking up the velocity and blowing through lineups like it's a group of teenagers. Santana and Hafner -- both called out in the mildest of ways by manager Manny Acta before the game -- started the inning by taking first-pitch fastballs into the seats in right.
In two pitches, the game was tied.
"I couldn't believe it," Santana said.
Jose Lopez followed with a single, and two outs later Shin-Soo Choo singled. Asdrubal Cabrera then pulled a 99 mph fastball into right to give the Indians the lead, which Jason Kipnis increased to two with another single when shortstop Ramon Santana could not handle a line drive.
Against all conventional wisdom, the Indians had scored four times off the best pitcher in baseball.
"Huge win for us," Hafner said.
A guy given a chance to throw a no-hitter in any game had given up four runs. A guy who in his last outing in Cleveland closed the ninth by throwing in the 100s had given up the lead.
The only common thread: The Indians won both games, giving Verlander two of his six losses this season.
"Justin's just like your offensive guys," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's not going to do it all the time."
It sure was shocking that he didn't do it, though.
"To most people it is," Leyland said. "But when you've been around long enough you know it happens to everybody. He just didn't close it down."
Verlander gave nothing -- especially about the home runs, the first he'd given up back to back since August of 2011.
"They were horrible, horrible pitches," Verlander said. "If I execute my pitches I seriously doubt they do anything with it."
Leyland said the Indians did some good scouting and had hitters swinging at good pitches early, eschewing the modern conventional wisdom of "working the count." Choo led off the game with a first-pitch double off the center field fence, and Santana and Hafner both homered on first pitches. Several other Indians hit balls hard on the first pitch that turned into outs.
"They were just going to try to ambush him, it looked like to me," Leyland said. "I can't swear that's true, but it's certainly looked like it obviously."
Hafner said it wasn't that, not exactly.
"There's no reason to really try to get deep in the counts on him," Hafner said. "If he throws you strikes in the zone, you got to be ready to hit because his stuff and location is so good he can put you away."
Prior to the game, Acta had said that the Indians clearly needed Santana and Hafner to come around, saying if they didn't hit to their capabilities "we're going to have some issues."
In the fourth, Santana grounded into a double-play with two on and nobody out, and with a runner on third Hafner grounded out to short. The next at-bats were a whole lot different.
They say there's no momentum in baseball, but this series-ending win sure seems like it could give a lift to a team hovering around .500 much of the season.
"This tells us we can stay in this thing," Kipnis said. "We know we can play better. Taking two of three from Detroit doesn't mean anything if we don't play better after this."
Kipnis was the Indians player in the offseason who posted defiantly on Twitter after Detroit signed Prince Fielder as a free agent. His post: "The bigger they are… "
"That they're still beatable," Kipnis said. "They obviously have the targets on their backs and they're the ones projected to win it. But the game is decided between the lines.
"You're going to have be on your game to beat these guys, but it is do-able."