Blake’s extra-inning blast wins game
DETROIT — If this is any indication of what’s to come between Central Division rivals Cleveland and Detroit, strap yourself in for a thrill ride that may just last the rest of the season.
The first-place Indians and second-place Tigers began a somewhat significant three-game series at Comerica Park on Tuesday, less than a week before the All-Star break, and needed extra innings — what else? — to complete the first installment.
Both American League heavyweights traded punches for 11 innings before Cleveland’s Casey Blake landed the knockout blow with a solo home run to left off Tigers reliever Jose Capellan that lifted the Indians to a 5-4 victory.
The Indians were down to their final out of the inning when Blake connected on an 0-1 pitch for his 12th homer of the year.
“Usually that’s what it takes in that type of ballgame, when you have two teams scratching and clawing at each other,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team won for the sixth time in eight games against the defending AL champions to boost their division lead to three games.
Cleveland won for the sixth straight time, producing its major league-leading 26th come-from-behind win.
The Indians’ winning streak remained intact but Paul Byrd’s string of consecutive innings without an unintentional walk came to an end at 771/3 innings. Byrd, who did not figure in the decision, allowing four runs on six hits through seven innings, walked Magglio Ordonez with two on in the fifth, his first since he walked Texas’ Kenny Lofton on April 26.
That was about as bad as it got for the Indians, who got another big hit from Ben Francisco and another sparkling effort from their bullpen.
Francisco solidified himself as an instant hero by hitting his third homer in eight games since being promoted from Triple-A Buffalo.
Francisco, who hit a walk-off homer to beat Tampa Bay on Friday, entered the game as a pinch hitter for Jason Michaels with one out in the eighth inning, needing just one swing to tie it at 4 with a solo homer to left off former Indians pitcher Chad Durbin.
It was a move Wedge made with an eye on Francisco’s minor league numbers, which showed he was a much better hitter against right-handed pitchers such as Durbin.
“When they brought the right-hander in, I felt like that was our best option,” Wedge said.
It was, with Francisco hitting .370 with a .545 slugging percentage against righties in the minors, compared to a .256 average and a .329 slugging percentage against lefties.
“I was ready to hit. They told me to be ready,” Francisco said. “I’m having a blast. I’m enjoying it. The whole team’s in a good mood right now. We’re winning games. There’s nothing more I can ask for.”
The Indians got plenty of assistance from their bullpen once Byrd was gone, with the threesome of Rafael Betancourt, Tom Mastny and Joe Borowski combining to shut out Detroit on two hits over the final four innings.
Mastny got in and out of a bases-loaded jam with the game on the line in the 10th, retiring dangerous hitters Carlos Guillen and Ivan Rodriguez to end the threat.
“T-Mast was outstanding,” Wedge said. “He really bowed his neck to get some big hitters. It wasn’t easy. Those weren’t quick outs.”
Borowski pitched for the fifth time in six days, earning his league-leading 25th save and 13th straight. Over the five-game span, Borowski has recorded four saves and a win.
Catcher Kelly Shoppach had a hand — or foot — in the victory, blocking Gary Sheffield from the plate on a play at home in the fifth that saved a valuable run for the Indians.
Rodriguez caught the 2,000th game of his career and ranks fourth in major league history behind Carlton Fisk, Bob Boone and Gary Carter. The milestone was acknowledged with the sold-out Comerica Park crowd (40,741) showering Pudge with a standing ovation prior to the sixth inning.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
WHERE: Comerica Park, Detroit
PITCHERS: Westbrook (1-3, 6.10 ERA) vs. Rogers (22-0, 0.75)
TV/RADIO: ESPN, SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
Third baseman Casey Blake (right) is congratulated by Jhonny Peralta after drilling a game-winning solo home run in the 11th inning Tuesday to lift the Tribe to a 5-4 win over the Tigers in Detroit. Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez looks on at left.