Detroit – And now comes A.L. Central-leading Cleveland.
The Tigers finished off a four-game sweep of the Mariners Thursday with a dramatic 5-4 win in 10 innings. Cameron Maybin, in the game as a pinch-runner, scored the winner on a wild pitch with two outs. They will enter this three-game series with the Indians four games back.
The Indians, you might recall, are 6-0 against the Tigers, winning the games by a combined run differential of 26.
“They kind of whupped us, quite frankly,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We’ve got to find a way to win. I hope the guys in this clubhouse are a little ticked that we haven’t beaten them this year and have a little extra fire in their belly when we play them this weekend.”
That appears to be the case.
“That taste is still in our mouth,” said reliever Kyle Ryan, who worked out of big, self-inflicted trouble in the top of the 10th Thursday to earn his second win in two games. “We’re hot right now and we’re going to stay hot.”
The Tigers had won five straight before going to Cleveland in early May and promptly lost three straight.
“Our team is clicking a little differently now,” catcher James McCann said. “First of all, we have our team together. Maybin wasn’t there for those games. I wasn’t there for the first series and I was just coming off the DL in the second one.
“We have a lot of the same guys but there is a different feel in the clubhouse. There is a different swag, if that make sense. There is a different swag about us right now.”
A couple of walk-offs, some brilliant pitching out of the bullpen and a four-game sweep will put some pep in the step, for sure.
Start with the bullpen. It provided another five innings of strong relief Thursday.
The first pitch Bruce Rondon threw to Nelson Cruz in the sixth was knocked into the seats in left field – the second homer of the game for Cruz. It tied the game at 4-4 and it was the last run allowed by the bullpen; that after producing 4.2 perfect innings Wednesday night.
Rondon (1.2 innings), Alex Wilson (four straight outs) and Shane Greene (one scoreless) got the Tigers through the ninth inning.
Ryan, who bailed the Tigers out of serious trouble Wednesday, created a quick mess in the 10th. Shawn O'Malley led off with a single and went to third when Ryan's pickoff throw went down the right-field line.
“That was a stupid move on my part,” he said. “I rushed it and threw a change-up over there. And two, it was the wrong scenario to do it. I needed to focus on getting the guy at the plate out. But you just throw that in the back of your head.
“You have to know messed up, so prove to yourself you can get out of it.”
Done. Ketel Marte bounced out to third for the first out. Then Seth Smith hit a broken-bat one-hopper to Ian Kinsler, who threw home. Catcher James McCann tagged out O'Malley in a rundown.
Ryan then struck out Robinson Cano impressively on three pitches to end the inning.
“He created the problem, but he did an outstanding job getting out of it,” Ausmus said. “Since he’s been called back up, he’s been outstanding.”
By the time the bottom of the 10th rolled around, the Mariners were down to their last available reliever. It was Steve Cishek, their closer, and he was beginning his second inning of work.
The reason for that?
Rookie right-hander Adrian Sampson was supposed to make his second big-league start, but he felt some pain in his right elbow after throwing his second warm-up pitch. His day was over before it started.
That began a parade of relievers. Vidal Nuno, who gave up four runs including a two-run homer by McCann, Edwin Diaz, Tom Wilhelmsen, Nick Vincent and Joaquin Benoit all preceded Cishek.
“We were running short, too,” Ausmus said. “I didn’t want to use K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) or Justin Wilson. I didn’t want to use Ryan, either, but circumstances called for it.”
So, the Tigers needed to get it done, the sooner the better.
With one out in the 10th, Steven Moya walked. Maybin ran for him and Victor Martinez, batting for McCann, knocked a pinch-hit single. Left fielder Smith threw the ball errantly back to the infield and the runners advanced to second and third.
After an intentional walk to Jarrod Saltalamacchia loaded the bases, Cishek struck out Andrew Romine. But his second pitch to Kinsler got past the catcher and Maybin danced home.
Daniel Norris, just called up from Toledo, lasted five innings and gave up three solo home runs – to Cruz in the fourth and back-to-back shots by Chris Iannetta and Leonys Martin in the fifth.
“That last inning left a bad taste in my mouth,” Norris said. “But I thought the first four were strong. … The fifth kind of sped up on me and I hit a bit of a wall. But the first four innings, I have to take the positives out of that. I felt good and my stuff was playing good.”
And now comes Cleveland.
“We have to take care of our business,” McCann said. “If you start scoreboard watching you lose focus on what’s important, and that’s the things you can control. They’ve done well against us to start the season, but we still have 13 games left against them.”