Tigers fail to pounce on chances in loss to Indians
Cleveland — It’s a game of opportunity, right? You only get so many chances in the course of nine innings and success or failure depends on how often you can cash in.
The Tigers had two Grade-A opportunities against Indians ace Corey Kluber early in the game Wednesday. The Indians had but one against Anibal Sanchez.
The Tigers squandered. The Indians capitalized.
BOX SCORE: Indians 4, Tigers 0
The Indians rode a four-run fourth-inning uprising and beat the Tigers for the second straight night and fifth time this season — 4-0 before a sparse crowd of 8,766 at Progressive Field.
“Really, it comes down to we had opportunities to score and he shut us down,” catcher James McCann said. “When you have a guy on the ropes, you have to take advantage of it because those opportunities are few and far between.”
Minus the fourth, Sanchez pitched no-hit ball in the first, second, third, fifth and sixth innings. He faced the minimum in those hitters, with only a walk tarnishing perfect work. And that walk was promptly erased in a double play.
“I felt good,” said Sanchez, who didn’t get out of the third inning in his last start against the Indians. “I feel everything is coming back. Slowly, but it’s coming back. From the last outing to this outing, I pitched pretty well. I just have to continue working.”
He gave up a single and a walk in the seventh, but worked out of it. It was as good as he’s pitched in a long time.
But, oh, that fourth inning. Sanchez walked Carlos Santana. With one out, he hit Francisco Lindor on a 1-2 pitch. That seemed to unsettle him.
The first hit he allowed in the game was an RBI single by Michael Brantley, who entered the game hitting .143. Mike Napoli, hitting .210, doubled. Then Sanchez threw a wild pitch. Yan Gomes, hitting .192, then doubled, scoring Napoli.
Four runs; that fast.
“I felt like I make good pitches against that team and they took advantage in that one inning,” Sanchez said. “That’s baseball. That guy over there (Kluber), he made really good pitches. No blame for nobody. That guy threw a real good game for them.”
The Tigers, staggered in the fourth, never regained enough traction to mount any kind of fight-back.
It was as if they were rope-a-doped and punched themselves out in the early innings.
They loaded the bases against Kluber with one out in the second inning. Nick Castellanos singled and then Kluber walked McCann and Anthony Gose on eight straight balls.
But Kluber sawed the bat off in Jose Iglesias’ hands and his weak grounder to first forced the lead runner at the plate. Then he struck out Ian Kinsler with a high fastball.
The Tigers let Kluber off the hook again in the fourth. Justin Upton led off with a double — a 400-foot fly ball that center fielder Tyler Naquin dropped when he banged into the wall.
Castellanos followed with a ringing single to right. Upton broke back to second, which made it impossible for him to score on the hit. Still, with runners on first and third and no outs, the Tigers were in good shape.
McCann rolled into a 5-4-3 double play. Upton, who should have broken for the plate — better to have runners on first and second with one out, than a runner on third with two outs — froze. He knew he’d blundered, and banged himself on top of the helmet in frustration.
“I just got caught being too cautious and it cost us a run,” Upton said. “Can’t be cautious in that situation. You’ve got to get on the board. I just didn’t make that read.”
Kluber closed the inning by striking out Gose, looking.
That was essentially the ballgame. Kluber locked it down. The Tigers managed one hit from the fifth through the ninth.
“You can say, ‘Aw man, we missed our opportunities,’ but once you miss it, we have to leave it in the past,” Castellanos said. “We’ve got to strap it on and try to get something going the next inning.
“If we are dwelling on the fact we didn’t get a guy in and we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities early — we still have a lot baseball left.”
Kluber, who blanked the Tigers on two hits over eight innings at Comerica earlier this season, allowed just one hit after the fourth. The Tigers continually hit soft, roll-over ground balls to the left side of the infield. In one stretch, eight of 10 Tigers hitters grounded the ball to shortstop or third base.
“He’s been tough on us both times (this season),” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We got to him a little last year, but he’s tough against right-handed hitters and we’re a right-handed hitting lineup. He's got a good cutter and a slider, and he throws his fastball in the mid-90s. He's tough."
Kluber holds right-handed hitters to a .227 average and a .605 OPS in his career, so the point is well-taken.
“You have to give credit where credit is due — he threw a great game,” Castellanos said. “But having said that, if our lineup does our thing, I don’t think there is any pitcher in baseball that can hold us down. But he did tonight.”
The Indians probably aren’t buying that premise right now. In the five wins over the Tigers this season, they’ve allowed just eight runs.
“It’s early,” McCann said. “We play them like 14 times. They’ve obviously had our number for the first five. Let’s see how the next 13 go.”