Through the first four innings in Cleveland, Justin was looking like “the old Justin”. Only his last name was Masterson. Stay with me. In the first four Tigers at bats, Indians starter Justin Masterson flashed JV 2012 skills, striking out 4 Tigers and yielding zero runs with stuff that looked quite wicked, especially his tailing slider and a fastball that varied speeds from 90-95, with late movement. We’ll hold arguments about whether or not Detroit’s Justin was ever really “gone” enough to use the phrase, “the old Justin” for another time. On with the recap.
If it weren’t for a dominant eight innings by the Tigers once and future Ace, I would have followed this recap by turning off the faucet while I brushed my teeth before bed… a “Donnie Deed” in honor of Don Kelly, arguably the most valuable Tiger on the night. (I’ll stick with JV but I’d listen openly to Don’s case. More on his night later.)
[What is a "Donnie Deed", you ask? Here's a link: http://www.blessyouboys.com/2013/7/2/4485310/donnie-deeds - great stuff by @PhilCokesBrain]
With a fastball that touched 100 multiple times, we can safely take a nail gun to the coffin of questions about Verlander’s velocity. His breaking ball was iffy at times, but Justin’s stuff looked alive yet again. After giving up 3 hits (including a hard double by Asdrubal Cabrera) in the first 2 innings, Verlander got that look in his eye and retired 11 straight before hitting Indians catcher Yan Gomes, on a breaking ball without its break, to start the bottom of 6. On the night, Verlander pitched 8 strong giving up just 1 run on 4 hits (again, 3 in the first 2 innings) and 0 walks, with 7 strikeouts. More importantly, Nick Swisher was 0-3 against him, including a K. (I really don’t hate Swisher, he’s just fun to poke at.) In that vein, perhaps the only disappointment in Verlander’s performance was that the bat of Ryan Raburn produced his lone earned run. Just for the sake of stirring the “Leeland” haters’ pots, that same Ryan Raburn is hitting .417 in August and .277 on the year with an OBP of .370 and 38 RBI. When we can have a little good-natured fun at the expense of Swisher, Raburn and skipper haters, odds are it was a good night for the Tigers.
Back to Don Kelly. Whether you are a fan who pulls/pines (ladies) for Donnie or curses Leyland every time you see his name in the lineup, it seems like he’s a hard guy not too root for… if only in secret. I used to lean toward the latter of those positions. While I haven’t yet ordered my #32 shirsey (size LG if anyone’s feeling generous), Kelly’s 3-hit explosion tonight, capped by a no-doubter, game-sealing (now that JV’s “back”) rocket of a 3-run homer to left has me fully prepared to download his walk-up music and/or stand & clap the next time he trots onto the field. On top of the 3 hit, 3 RBI, 1 run game by Kelly, he also had a few nice grabs and was genial to even the nastiest Indians fans seated in left*. Kelly is hitting .246 on the year but his OBP of .346 and his play tonight has him unofficially crossed off the grumble list of many Tigers fans. Here’s to you, Don Kelly. Hell of a night
*At least, that’s how I imagine it.
Kelly’s 3 run shot was the climax of a huge 5th inning for the Tigers, where they scored all 5 of their runs. The inning was lead off with a Ramon Santiago HBP that some argued his bunt attempt should have negated. Austin Jackson followed with his only hit of the night, a single to left, that moved Santiago (Tigers fans’ latest whipping boy) to 3rd. With no outs and runners at the corners, Torii Hunter got his job done with a fielder’s choice to short that scored Santiago and tied the game at 1. Miguel Cabrera followed with his 2nd hit of the game, a monster to double to deep center to bring Torii home for a 2-1 Tigers lead. After a Fielder ground out (0-3 tonight; .258 on the season), Masterson hit his second batter of the inning, putting Victor Martinez at 1st with Cabrera at 3rd and two outs. Don Kelly stepped to the plate with 2 hits already in his pocket and proceeded to shock the world (okay, at least most of Livonia or something) with a 378-foot bomb to right that put the Tigers ahead for good, 5-1.
Here I must remind and/or inform our readers that Jim Leyland chose to start Don Kelly over Andy Dirks tonight and, as it turned out, he chose damn well. Coming into the night, Andy Dirks was 7-25 (.280) against Indians starter Justin Masterson. Don Kelly was 8-21 (.380). I’m certain many were hollering about the small sample size and calling for Leyland’s head on an ashtray. And that’s all fine, well & fun for comment board reading. To each their own. Let’s just make sure we all count the decisions that work out as well as those that don’t in our individual, opinionated assessments. I digress, severely.
Alex Avila followed Kelly’s dinger (purposefully awkward slang) with a single but Jose Iglesias ended the at bat with a ground out to short. We headed to the bottom of 5 with the Tigers up by 4. Time for a shutdown inning, Justin – right? Right. Verlander sat Carlos Santana, Ryan Raburn & Lonnie Chisenhall in order to end the 5th. And Jim Price glowed (yes, in this case, you could hear someone glowing through the radio).
Verlander and Masterson both got through the 6th and 7th unscathed before Marc Rzepczynski replaced Masterson in the 8th. Rzepczynski pitched a quick 1-2-3 inning. Justin Verlander pitched a quicker 1-2-3 bottom half — needing just 6 pitches to get Chisenhall, Gomes and Bourn. The Tigers came to bat in the 9th still leading 5-1. Unfortunately (for Tigers fans), dugout hugs for JV after the 8th meant he wasn’t likely to get the chance at his first complete game of the year. (And my, “Comeback Complete” headline died a lonely death. Sorry for the beyond thinly-veiled attempt to sneak it in here anyway.) Justin had 6 CG’s in 2012, for reference. There’s still time? Nah, but color me unconcerned.
It was another 1-2-3 at bat for the Tigers in the 9th and the recently acquired Jose Veras came on to close in the non-save situation. Veras kept Indians fans quiet, sitting the heart of their lineup (2,3 & 4 hitters) in order to end the game and give the Tigers their 10th straight win (2 behind Atlanta for the longest current streak in the league). Detroit heads into hump day with a 5 game division lead over the Tribe who may also be feeling the heat from a Royals team that is 8-2 over their last 10 and 3.5 back on Cleveland.
Side Note: The AL Central’s top 3 teams (Det, Cle, KC) have won 25 of their last 30 games and the Boston Red Sox are the only AL team with a better winning percentage than the Tigers. Someone please relay that to the east and left (of sanity) coasts, stat. (Also, there are a few games yet to be finished as of me writing this and Tampa, who is tied with Detroit at a .595 winning % is losing 6-1 in the 8th.)
The Tigers are now 21 GAMES OVER .500 (that felt good) heading into tomorrow’s matchup between Doug Fister (10-5) and top Indians prospect, Danny Salazar (1-0), who is stepping into the spot of Ubaldo Jimenez for this game. Jimenez is 1-2 with an ERA of 6.92 in three starts against the Tigers in 2013.
It’s been an impressive 10 game stretch for the Tigers with key contributions coming from nearly every spot. And let’s not forget, they’ve done it without the help of starting 2B Omar Infante who was hitting .309 with a .340 OBP before getting clipped by Colby Rasmus of the Blue Jays on a hard slide in early July.
Thanks for reading and good night.