CLEVELAND — The Indians’ offense has shouldered a large amount of criticism for much of the season. It’s only fair that it receives some praise after what took place Thursday night at Progressive Field.
Looking lethargic for much of the night against arguably the best pitcher in the majors — Detroit’s Justin Verlander — Cleveland erupted for four runs in the seventh inning to turn back Verlander and the Tigers, 5-3.
It was a big win on a number of fronts for the Indians, who won the series to stay in contention in the Central Division. They trail the first-place White Sox by 3 1/2 games and second-place Detroit by three.
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“It was a good ending to the series after the homestand didn’t start so well,” said manager Manny Acta, whose team dropped three of four to Baltimore before Detroit’s arrival. “You have to give it to these guys. To be able to come back against a guy like Verlander, was just tremendous. Our big guys stepped up today.”
By big guys, Acta meant Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner — the pair clouting back-to-back solo home runs to ignite the seventh-inning rally. Both came on first-pitch offerings from Verlander, the American League’s defending Cy Young Award winner and MVP.
The Indians, who trailed by two runs and had just three hits through six innings, kept going from there, with Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis providing two-out RBI singles before the seventh was complete.
“That inning seemed like it came out of nowhere,” Hafner said.
“It was exciting,” Santana said. “I couldn’t believe it was two pitches. It was so exciting to see the team come back.”
Verlander (11-6, 2.60 ERA), was unwilling to credit either home run hitter, blaming himself for Cleveland’s reversal of fortunes.
“It was horrible execution,” said Verlander, who fell to 0-2 in two starts against the Indians this season. “I didn’t hit my spots at all. They were horrible, horrible pitches (to Santana and Hafner). If I execute my pitches, I seriously doubt they do anything with it.”
Verlander matched his season-high (done twice) by allowing five earned runs on nine hits over seven innings. He is 13-13 in his career against the Indians, with 10 of them coming in Cleveland. It is the most losses he has endured to a team, period, and the most he has endured at an opposing park throughout his career.
The rally didn’t get Cleveland’s starting pitcher Zach McAllister a win, but it did get him off the hook for an unfortunate loss.
McAllister (4-2, 3.18) maintained his status as the most consistent member of the rotation, allowing three runs (two earned) on nine hits over 6 1/3 innings.
“McAllister was good again,” Acta said. “Every five days, he continues to go out there and give us a chance to win — and today, going toe-to-toe with Verlander, that was pretty good.”
As has been the case for much of the year, the two-run advantage was secure, thanks to Cleveland’s bullpen.
It began with right-hander Joe Smith coming on for McAllister in the seventh and inducing the dangerous Miguel Cabrera to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Vinnie Pestano pitched a perfect eighth inning before turning it over to closer Chris Perez, who allowed a leadoff double to Alex Avila, but was still able to convert his 29th save in 31 opportunities. Perez has saved all seven of the Indians’ wins over Detroit.
The Indians entered the pivotal series with a 5-1 record against Detroit after starting the season on a 10-game skid against their division rivals.
“It was a good win,” said Smith, who recorded the victory to improve to 7-1 with a 3.14 ERA. “I said before the series that we’re confident against the Tigers. We play well against them in this park. We really came together.”
The start of the game was delayed 26 minutes by rain.