indians 7, Tigers 4
Homers, Michaels catch help Byrd topple Tigers
DETROIT — Round one of the battle of Central Division heavyweights Cleveland and Detroit went to the Indians, who landed a number of early power punches Friday night and then withstood a late Tiger flurry to get the decision.
Clouting a trio of home runs within the first four innings, the Indians built a substantial lead and then held off Detroit to win
7-4 in the first meeting of the season between the top teams in the Central.
It was Cleveland’s second straight win after avoiding a sweep in Kansas City on Thursday. It returned the Indians to first place, a half-game in front of the Tigers, who lost for just the second time in seven games in front of a sellout crowd of 40,704.
“A lot of good things happened,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game, as it always is against these guys.”
All three of Cleveland’s homers came off Detroit starter Nate Robertson, who didn’t make it out of the sixth inning, allowing five runs on 10 hits.
Casey Blake and Victor Martinez homered in the opening inning and Josh Barfield went deep in the fourth for the Indians, who have homered in a season-high nine straight games.
Indians starter Paul Byrd continued his successful start to the season, winning for the fifth time in six decisions, while lasting at least six innings for the eighth time in eight starts.
The right-hander allowed four runs on nine hits in 61/3 innings, striking out four while walking no one. Byrd, who has walked just three on the season, hasn’t issued a free pass in 371/3 innings.
Following a season of ups and downs during his debut with Cleveland in 2006, Byrd has been on the mark through the first two months.
“This is more of what you’re accustomed to seeing when it comes to Paul Byrd,” Wedge said.
Byrd allowed just a run on four hits through the first five innings, but it could’ve been more had Jason Michaels not been patrolling left field.
With runners on first and second and one out in the second inning, Craig Monroe sent a drive deep to left. Michaels raced back to the wall, leaped and stole a homer that could have drastically changed the complexion of the game.
“The story tonight was not how I pitched,” Byrd said. “It was Jason Michaels making an unbelievable catch like Superman, Josh Barfield hitting a home run and the bullpen coming in and saving me.
“It was a great night. Everyone was involved.”
“My first reaction was right to the fence,” Michaels said. “I was fortunate that it stayed up enough that I was able to catch it.
“I was pumped up. That was awesome.”
The Indians led 5-1 when the Tigers went to work in the bottom of the sixth, scoring twice off Byrd with two outs.
Monroe led off the seventh with a solo, line-drive homer to left that pulled Detroit within a run, but reliever Rafael Betancourt rode to the rescue to record the final two outs of the inning. Betancourt pitched a scoreless eighth to give the Indians a chance to add some insurance in the ninth.
They did, scoring twice, once on a triple from Travis Hafner. It was the first triple of the season for Hafner, who recorded three triples in both 2003-04 but had just one since.
It turned out Cleveland closer Joe Borowski didn’t need the cushion, working a scoreless ninth inning after allowing a leadoff single to Sean Casey. He converted his league-leading 15th save in 17 chances.
The Indians continued their winning ways in the Central, improving to 11-4 against division rivals — 10-2 against Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago – and landing the first punch against the defending American League champions.
“This is a division where you can’t lose too many series,” said Byrd, whose team is 11-4-1 in series, including an 8-0 mark at home. “It’s nice to come to their ballpark and win the first game.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
WHO: Cleveland at Detroit
TIME: 3:55 p.m.
WHERE: Comerica Park, Detroit
PITCHERS: Sabathia (6-1, 3.51) vs. Verlander (5-1, 2.68)
TV/RADIO: Channel 8; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM