July 31, 2014

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First things first: Indians down Tigers, pull even in Central

CLEVELAND — Indians manager Eric Wedge wondered whether his team was tough enough to pull itself out of a funk that had engulfed the club for the better part of the second half.
He got his answer Wednesday night.
On the verge of losing their season-high fifth straight game and falling further behind the Tigers in the Central Division race, the Indians found some moxie, turning back Detroit 5-2 in front of 39,250 fans at Jacobs Field.
The victory gave the Indians a split of the
two-game series, drawing them even with the Tigers in the division standings, with the teams set to meet three more times over the next eight days.
Detroit, which played without flu-ridden starters Ivan Rodriguez, Placido Polanco and Craig Monroe and saw its win streak snapped at three games, lost for the ninth time in 12 games.
Wedge, who challenged his team’s intestinal fortitude following Cleveland’s fourth straight defeat in the series opener on Tuesday, felt like his players responded in positive fashion.
“I think you’ve got to put a little more stock in a game like this,” Wedge said. “The guys competed their butts off out there, and it was good to see.”  
No one was tougher than Indians starter Fausto Carmona, who was dominant again, allowing just one earned run on five hits through eight innings, while striking out a career-high 10 batters.
The right-hander is the first Cleveland pitcher other than C.C. Sabathia to record 10 strikeouts in a game since Kaz Tadano fanned 10 in 2004 at Cincinnati.
An unearned run in the second was the only thing that crossed the plate against Carmona through the first seven innings. He retired 13 of the 14 batters he faced over a span from the third through seventh innings, with the lone base runner reaching on a walk.
“It was just another outstanding performance,” Wedge said. “He really dug in there late. You talk about raising your level of game in a key situation for your ballclub, he did it.”
Wedge was referring to Carmona’s final inning of work in the eighth.
After allowing hits to the first two batters he faced — a leadoff single to Brandon Inge followed by an RBI triple from Curtis Granderson — Carmona stopped the charge by retiring three straight to keep a 4-2 lead intact.
“The story of the game was Carmona,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “He had it when he needed it, especially later in the game. He overpowered us. It was one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen this year.”
The win came on the heels of three straight tough-luck outings for Carmona, who allowed just seven earned runs in three previous starts. But thanks to a lack of run support, he lost all three games.
The Indians’ scuffling offense did not return in full force — producing six hits — but it scored early and made enough appearances to back its pitcher’s sparkling effort.
“It was important because (the runs) gave me some confidence,” Carmona said through an interpreter. “After I got the runs I felt good. It was my game then.”
As they did in Tuesday’s defeat, the Indians used a two-run home run to get them started, with Franklin Gutierrez’s blast to right-center off Detroit starter Jair Jurrjens putting them in front for good in the second. Jurrjens was making his major league debut.
The Indians added a run in the third on a hit from Victor Martinez, then went up 4-1 in the sixth after Travis Hafner grounded into a double play to score Grady Sizemore, who led off the inning with his third triple of the year. Hafner walked with the bases loaded to score Cleveland’s final run in the eighth.  
“It was important to stop the slide,” said Hafner, who was playing for the second straight day after missing four games with a hamstring strain. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but, hopefully, today was a good start.”
Sizemore has adapted well to Wedge’s new batting order, which was instituted for the first time on Tuesday, with Sizemore hitting third, while Kenny Lofton replaced him at the top.
Sizemore is 2-for-6 with a homer, triple, two RBIs and three runs as the third hitter, reaching base in seven of nine trips to the plate.
Indians closer Joe Borowski, the culprit in Tuesday’s loss to the Tigers in 10 innings, entered the game to boos from the hometown crowd.
He had them cheering at the end, working a scoreless ninth on one hit to record his 33rd save of the season in 37 opportunities — second in the American League.
The Indians hit the road for three games with the last-place Devil Rays, while the Tigers travel to New York for a four-game set with the Yankees.
The Indians depart in a better frame of mind than they owned during the majority of a homestand that saw them go 1-4, earmarked by a sweep from the Yankees.
“On a scale of 1-10, probably a 12,” said Borowski when asked how bad his team needed a win. “I think it was definitely key for us to get out of here with a win. Hopefully it’s an indication of things to come.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 653-0899 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.