Cleveland — Justin Upton has a knack for nut-shelling situations, putting them succinctly into perspective.
“Tonight, that (stuff) can’t happen,” he said Friday after the Tigers endured yet another beating from the Indians, 11-4. “It wasn’t a pretty game. If we play good baseball and lose, that’s one thing. We didn’t play good baseball.”
It’s now a seven-game spread in the Central Division standings. But the gap between the Tigers and Indians is much wider — more like a gulf. The Indians have now beaten the Tigers 12 times in 13 games — by a combined score of 90-40 (88-28 in the Tigers losses).
“This was similar to 11 of the other 12,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “They just stuck it to us. They were the better team. We were sloppy. … They kicked our tails.”
This one did have a lot of similar elements. Opportunistic and relentless hitting by the Indians. A lot of non-competitive at-bats and sloppy defensive plays by the Tigers (including three errors and two balks).
Upton inadvertently set the tone by losing Mike Napoli’s fly ball in the lights in the first inning.
“Lost it in the sky,” he said. “Dusky.”
The ball fell 15 to 20 feet behind him and bounced over the wall, scoring the first two runs of the game.
“It was pretty clear he lost it from the get-go,” Ausmus said. “It’s a harrowing feeling, when you know it’s up there somewhere and you can’t find it and you know if it drops runs are going to score. You are kind of helpless out there.”
Upton would atone, hitting a pair of long home runs and knocking in all four of the Tigers runs off Indians starter Corey Kluber, but there was no stopping the Indians offense or the Tigers defensive lapses.
“When they’ve beaten us, it’s their offense that has killed us,” Ausmus said. “We have to find some way to stop them from scoring runs.”
Rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer, who pitched the only Tigers win over the Indians this year, was both unsteady and unlucky early.
The Indians scored two runs in each of the first two innings. Napoli’s lost fly ball scored two and a seeing-eye single by Carlos Santana that leaked through the right side of the Tigers’ infield scored two in the second.
“They’re in first place for a reason,” said Fulmer, who lasted five innings and gave up six runs and seven hits. “I know this was a big game for us and I didn’t perform. But we can play the what-ifs. If Napoli doesn’t hit that two-run bomb (in the fifth inning), it’s a tie game in the sixth inning.
“But that’s all 20-20 hindsight. Just have to turn the page.”
Fulmer worked out of a two-walk third inning and pitched a clean fourth. But Napoli shellacked a 2-2 fastball 411 feet to left field, his 34th homer of the season, to make it 6-1.
Though it might have been just a solo shot had Ian Kinsler been able to convert a double-play ground ball on the previous hitter, Francisco Lindor. Kinsler tried to tag Jason Kipnis, who was running from first to second. Kipnis spun away and all Kinsler could do was throw to first to get Lindor.
“Fulmer wasn’t as sharp, which is bad timing because we’re playing the Indians late in the season,” Ausmus said. “That happens. But we wouldn’t be here without him.”
Kluber reduced the Tigers offense to one hitter – Upton. He hit a 426-foot, solo home run to the bushes in right-center field in the second inning (on an 0-2 fastball). Then, in the sixth, he hit one 418 feet nearly to the same spot — a three-run blast that made it 6-4.
“I just got two mistakes,” Upton said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Kluber allowed just three hits to the rest of the Tigers lineup though seven innings.
“We tried to hang around,” Ausmus said. “That’s why we went to the guys in the back of the bullpen early to see if we can hold it right there. It was not to be.”
Shane Greene relieved Fulmer in the sixth and was promptly tagged with a single by Tyler Naquin and a double by Abraham Almonte. Naquin scored on a sacrifice fly to center.
Cameron Maybin made a diving catch on the ball, and had Almonte doubled off second. But his throw was wild, rolling all the way to the Tigers dugout, allowing him to get to third.
Greene stranded him there, but the lead was up to 7-4.
After the Tigers stranded Andrew Romine at third with one out in the top of the seventh inning — Maybin strikeout and Cabrera fly out — the Indians tacked on another run off reliever Bruce Rondon in the bottom half.
Again, it was a Tigers miscue that led to the run. Napoli ripped his third hit of the game, a long single to left. He tried to steal second, breaking when Rondon still had the ball. It appeared Rondon stepped off the mound and threw Napoli out, but third-base umpire Pat Hoberg ruled it a balk.
“They said Rondon flinched before he stepped off,” Ausmus said. “They said he flinched, with his leg.”
Napoli scored on a single by Jose Ramirez.
It happened again in the bottom of the eighth. Reliever Joe Mantiply walked Almonte. Rajai Davis pinch-ran and was picked off. But Cabrera’s throw from first sailed into left field. Davis went to third and scored on a single by Roberto Perez.
The Indians wound up scoring three runs in the inning, possibly driving a stake through the Tigers' thin hopes of getting back into the Central Division race.
“It’s just one day,” Ausmus said. “We’ll come back tomorrow and start new. Fresh game. We’ve got to go out and beat them. They’ve kicked our tails.”
Told that the Tigers were fast running out of next days, Ausmus said, “I don’t care if it’s the last game of the season. I can’t do anything about yesterday. I can’t do anything about this game. We’ll forget about it and come back tomorrow.”