Cleveland — The appetizer was good, as was the game’s dessert. But there were only crumbs of a meal in between.
The Tigers scored first and last Thursday night, both times in bunches — which is how they were able to beat the Cleveland Indians 11-4 in 11 innings.
It was a weird win, though, in that the Tigers scored four runs in the first and seven in the 11th, but were blanked on three hits for nine innings in between as a lead seeped away from starter Max Scherzer.
But weird wins count as much as any other.
With the victory, the Tigers climbed to within a game of the first-place, but idle, Kansas City Royals in the American League Central.
Also with the win, the Tigers ended up winning three of four games at Progressive Field — and are headed home on the heels of a 5-3 two-city trip.
Eugenio Suarez, who didn’t start, but got into the game as a pinch runner for Miguel Cabrera in the 10th, broke the 4-4 tie with a two-run single in the 11th — followed by Victor Martinez’s three-run home run. The blast was his 29th this season..
Andrew Romine also had a two-run single in the 11th while the Indians’ bullpen duo of Josh Tomlin and Bryan Price imploded.
It can’t be said, though, that everything went right for the Tigers. With Scherzer starting, but at times scuffling, they let a sizable lead slip away — which can’t become repetitious down the stretch.
In fact, what would help the Tigers immensely in getting to where they want to go again — back to the postseason, in other words (and once there, who knows) — would be if Scherzer could finish the regular season on a roll such as the kind he put together multiple times last year.
That’s not to say he hasn’t pitched well this season — because he has. Without a decision in this game, he’s still 15-5.
And no one gets to 15-5 by struggling.
Not only that, but the Tigers are now 20-9 in the games he’s started this year. That, more than is own record, is hugely important to him.
“It means I go out there and do my job,” he said.
“I’m pitching deeper in games this year overall, and continue to pitch at a high level. I don’t think I’m quite as consistent as I was last year, but I’m still growing as a pitcher.”
Saying a pitcher needs to get on a roll would apply too much pressure on some.
But Scherzer has been there, done that. It won’t stretch anyone memory to recall that he did it last year – with streaks of four consecutive wins, of six consecutive wins, of six in eight starts, of eight in nine starts.
And so on.
Every time you looked around, Scherzer was in the midst of a winning streak. But not since his six-gamer ended with a no-decision on May 21 here in Cleveland, in a game the Tigers lost 11-10, has he managed to win more than two starts in a row.
He went 5-0 in seven starts at one point, and the Tigers could certainly use that degree of consistency, but in his last seven, he’s won only twice.
Even so, the downside of how Scherzer is pitching “doesn’t overly concern me,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
And probably shouldn’t.
For one thing, the Tigers know Scherzer is capable of shutting down any team at any time — and, frankly, he knows it, too.
But it didn’t happen this time.
“It was an absolute physical grind for me,” Scherzer said of his six innings, in which one of the three runs he allowed was unearned.
“I didn’t pitch efficiently, fell behind in counts, walk too many guys (3), but pitched as deep as I could.
“I did some good things, and others that I need to get better at, but overall I pitched pretty well.”
The Tigers grabbed a quick 4-0 lead in the first against Indians’ starter Trevor Bauer, then spent the rest of the night holding on.
It wasn’t any of the usual contributors getting the big hit in the first for the Tigers. It was catcher Bryan Holaday delivering a two-run single with two outs.
Holaday was in the lineup because Alex Avila still showed some after-effects of the foul ball off his mask on Tuesday night. Ausmus hopes Avila will be back in the lineup on Friday night.
Holaday wasn’t the only non-regular starting. Hernan Perez was at short, with Suarez getting a nine-inning rest — and Tyler Collins started in right, batted second, and singled in the Tigers’ four-run first as a replacement for Torii Hunter, whose bruised left foot limited him to pinch-hitting duties.
But the Indians started chipping away at the lead with a run in the fourth, another two in the sixth, and finally tied on a Michael Brantley double off Blaine Hardy in the seventh.
Then they stalled, as the Tigers had, and next run — actually the next seven — proved to be the difference.