Detroit — Not an entirely bad game for the Tigers — through, uh, six innings.
Nor an entirely bad start for Anibal Sanchez — through six innings.
But what an entirely rewarding way for the Cleveland Indians to return from the All-Star break — through nine innings.
In a quiet little game that suddenly got a lot busier, what looked on Friday night like it was going to be a pleasant back-to-action for the Tigers turned out not to be.
With a seven-run seventh inning which featured consecutive two-out home runs off Al Alburquerque — including a tie-breaking three-run shot by Jason Kipnis on a 1-2 pitch — the Indians downed the Tigers 9-3 at Comerica Park.
It had been 1-0 through the third for the Tigers.
Then 3-0 through the fourth as Torii Hunter, on his 39th birthday, doubled in a run and scored on a throwing error by catcher Yan Gomes after stealing third.
When he was 38, of course, Hunter referred to himself as being 28. If the way he played in this game continues, he’ll easily pass for being 29 at 39.
“You bet I congratulated him (for stealing third),” said thief extraordinaire Rajai Davis. “Gotta hand it to him. He’s still getting it done at 39.”
Through the sixth, in fact, it was going to be a toss-up as to which of two Tigers deserved most of the credit for what looked like a win in the works: Hunter or Sanchez.
The answer probably would have been Sanchez for the six shutout innings he’d thrown — and for the outstanding game it looked like he was en route to.
What Sanchez was headed for, instead, was an abrupt departure after the first four batters he faced in the seventh got on base – via single, walk, single, single.
“I don’t know if it was the time off, but I think he just got tired, actually,” manager Brad Ausmus said of Sanchez. “He was real crisp up until that point, but it looked like he almost hit a wall.”
The last hit Sanchez allowed was Nick Swisher’s two-run single that cut the Tigers’ lead to 3-2 — but also left trouble on the bases in the form of a first-and-third threat with no outs.
As it turned out, the inning was just beginning for the Indians.
And the chances of winning were just ending for the Tigers.
In relief of Sanchez, Ian Krol faced one batter: Former Tiger Ryan Raburn, whose double tied the game.
It was still tied after Alburquerque struck out Gomes for the first out.
And Chris Dickerson for the second out.
But it was not tied when Kipnis deposited a slider that didn’t slide beyond the wall in right for a three-run home run that gave the Indians a 6-3 lead.
“I wouldn’t say it was a terrible pitch (to Kipnis),” catcher Alex Avila said, “but it caught more plate than being down and in.
“You’re talking centimeters, though. That’s all it takes.”
To Ausmus, it looked like “Kipnis was sitting on a slider, and when big-league hitters sit on a pitch and get one in the zone, they’re going to hit it hard.”
Clearly upset at himself, Alburquerque gave up a first-pitch home run to the next batter as well, Asdrubal Cabrera.
“Seven runs in one inning can be a devastating blow,”Ausmus said.
Can be — and this time were.
The Tigers put two runners on with one out in each of the last three innings, but didn’t score.
Kipnis hit his second home run of the game as part of a two-run ninth against Chad Smith.
Sanchez (6-4) was the losing pitcher for allowing four runs in six innings. The bullpen did him no favors, however, for giving up five runs in the last three innings.
Trailing for most of the six innings he lasted, it didn’t look like starter Trevor Bauer (4-4) would emerge as the winning pitcher. But he did.
The Indians’ bullpen, however, chipped in with three scoreless innings.
Fully recovered from the side problem that caused him to miss 11 of the Tigers’ 13 games leading up to the break, Victor Martinez went 2-for-4 and scored a run.
“He said he felt great and wants to play both games (on Saturday),” Ausmus said. “We’ll see how that goes. It could be a decision in progress.”
Miguel Cabrera also had two hits, and stole his first base of the season.
In fact, it was the high-water mark when Cabrera stole second in the sixth with the Tigers ahead by three runs.
But it lost most of its luster as an ingredient of the game when the Indians did what they did in the seventh.