DETROIT — It was one of 162 games and it came during the first month of the regular season, but the win Wednesday night held special significance for the Indians.
Cleveland, which struggled mightily last year against three-time defending Central Division champion Detroit, got an early confidence builder, defeating the Tigers 3-2 in their first head-to-head matchup of the season.
The Indians beat Detroit just four times in 19 games last year, but they coupled an impressive pitching performance from Zach McAllister and a timely hit from Yan Gomes to win on a chilly night (42 degrees first pitch) at Comerica Park.
“It’s very nice to get off to a good start (against Detroit),” said Indians center fielder Michael Bourn, who made his season debut after missing a month with a left hamstring strain. “They were able to dominate us last year and we don’t want that to happen again. That was the difference in us winning the division.
“They’re the top of the division. They won it the last three years, so they’re the reigning champs. You have to knock them off. Until you knock them off, then you can be the king.”
The Indians managed just five hits, but were able to keep Detroit in check for the most part thanks to McAllister, who turned in his second straight quality outing, allowing just a run on four hits and two walks over six innings.
“I thought he did a great job. I mean, that’s a good lineup,” manager Terry Francona said. “He used his fastball really well and was really efficient.
“He kept us off the field. On a night like tonight, it felt like we sat in the dugout more than we were on the field, which is good. He kept his poise and made pitches and really did a good job. He looks good. He should feel good about himself.”
McAllister (2-0, 2.04 ERA) allowed a double to the first batter he faced, Ian Kinsler, and a run in the opening inning, but shut down the vaunted Tigers lineup the rest of the way.
The right-hander worked out of a jam in the fourth inning, getting Nick Castellanos to fly to center and striking out Alex Avila with runners on first and second.
“I was able to make the adjustments I wanted to,” said McAllister, who went 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in three starts against the Tigers last year. “I made some pretty good pitches when I had to.
“I know I struggled against them last year, too. It wasn’t just one of us. All of us did. For us to get a win is the most important thing. It’s definitely nice to come here and start off on the right foot.”
The Indians took advantage of a shaky Anibal Sanchez, who struggled with location, walking three straight to start the game and allowing three runs (two earned) in the first two innings.
Cleveland scored once in the first and then won the game in the fourth when Yan Gomes delivered a two-run triple.
“There wasn’t going to be a whole lot of hitting tonight,” Francona said. “We took our walks and then Gomer hit the ball in the gap to really cash in our runs.”
Detroit closed to within a run in the eighth inning off Cody Allen and Cleveland had to sweat things out in the ninth before closer John Axford was able to convert his fifth save in six opportunities.
Making his first appearance since blowing his first save Sunday against the White Sox on Alexei Ramirez’s two-run walk-off home run, Axford had to overcome an error on Bourn, who mishandled a double from Avila that allowed Detroit’s catcher to move to third with one out.
Axford struck out the pesky Don Kelly for the second out before he got Rajai Davis to ground to short to end the game.
Bourn went hitless in five trips to the plate in his first game back, drawing a walk in his first at-bat and scoring Cleveland’s first run.
“I thought Bourny looked really good,” Francona said. “He covered a lot of ground. He looked healthy and he feels like he’s ready to play (today), and that’s a good sign.”