Cleveland — Beanballs, bench warnings, ejections, a super-slow, in-your-face home run stroll — finally some life in this Cleveland-Detroit series.
It might have been too little too late — it was just their second win in 15 games against the Indians — but the Tigers salvaged the final game of the three-game set Sunday with a contentious, 9-5 win.
“We wanted to end their little streak,” said Tigers starter Daniel Norris, who pitched five innings for the win. “We want to compete and show them we mean business. It was a huge team win today.”
The Tigers might have been dragging tail a bit, coming into the matinee game with their playoff hopes fading after two dispiriting losses. But it’s amazing what a few beanballs can do to get a team’s juices flowing.
“Nobody likes to get hit,” catcher James McCann said. “I think the stat at the time was, he had thrown 10 balls and three of them hit our guys. I have no problem pitching in, but hitting three guys like that, it’s going to wake somebody up.”
Indians starter Trevor Bauer hit those three batters in the first three innings. He got Miguel Cabrera on the left hand in the first. Then in the third he beaned Ian Kinsler, hitting him on the top of the helmet with a 91-mph pitch.
Kinsler was tested for concussion symptoms and stayed in the game. But the symptoms worsened later and he was re-examined after the game. It wasn’t immediately known whether he would travel on the team plane to Minnesota.
Three batters later, Bauer drilled Victor Martinez in the right knee. It was the second time this series Martinez was hit in that knee.
“I wasn't real happy about it,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I don't believe that there was any intent on any of them, to be honest with you. But if you can't command the ball inside, you've got to maybe not go inside.
“I don't think he was trying to hit anyone. I don't think that was the case. This is the big leagues and if you're going to hit guys in the head or kneecap like that, something's got to give.”
Bauer, for his part, was apologetic.
On Twitter afterward, he wrote, “I want to extend my apologies to the Tigers I hit today, especially Ian. I would never intentionally throw at someone’s head. No place for that.
“I have too much respect for the entire Tigers lineup. I enjoy competing against them without the need to cause physical harm.”
The Tigers’ retaliation took two forms, one intentional and one perhaps not so much.
They made Bauer pay for his wildness in the third inning by scoring three runs and taking a 3-2 lead.
One run scored when Bauer hit Martinez. As Kinsler was crossing the plate, he gestured toward the Indians bench, telling them to get Bauer out of the game. Several other Tigers players were on the top step of the dugout yelling similar sentiments.
The other two runs came on a clutch, two-out single by Erick Aybar — after J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton struck out.
“That was a big inning right there,” Aybar said. “With two outs, I went to the plate and just told myself I was going to look for one pitch. That’s what I did and I was able to make good contact. It was big.”
Home plate umpire Jordan Baker did not issue any warnings after Bauer hit the two batters in the third. He did, however, warn both benches after Norris’ first pitch in the bottom of the third sailed behind Rajai Davis.
The Indians players said the situation was handled properly by Baker and by the Tigers. Norris’ retaliation pitch was expected and accepted. The warnings seemed to defuse the situation.
Norris insisted he was not throwing at Davis.
“There was kind of a hole in the mound,” Norris said. “I was trying to go inside, establish myself in because (Davis) likes to dive out over the plate. When I hit the hole, I just yanked it. I threw kind of an accidental cutter behind him.”
He reiterated that the pitch was not retaliatory and that he isn’t a proponent of eye-for-an-eye justice in the game.
“For me, I like to think of baseball in the old-school way,” Norris said. “But to be honest, I don't want anybody on base. I’m not trying to give up runs. I don't want to give up our lead at that time. I just want to get outs.”
It was Upton who produced a more savory and satisfying form of retaliation in the fifth inning.
He unleashed a 451-foot home run beyond the shrubbery in center field. It was his 25th home run and the two-run shot gave the Tigers at 5-2 lead.
Upton took a few slow steps admiring his blast — he was teammates with Bauer in Arizona — and then commenced one of the slowest home run trots of the season.
Catcher Chris Gimenez told reporters that normally such a trot would draw his ire, but in this case, he understood and let it pass without incident.
“It's going to be a dogfight,” McCann said. “That's the way it's going to be down the stretch. We understand that, and today we strapped it on and we found a way to get it done.”
Kinsler was ejected from the game in the middle of the fifth inning. He and Miguel Cabrera were having an animated discussion as they were coming off the field. Kinsler had been jawing to him throughout the game about Bauer, Baker thought he was still complaining about him.
“I just looked at the video and I actually think it was a complete misunderstanding,” Ausmus said. “I think the umpire thought Kinsler was motioning towards him when he was really just communicating with Miggy and it just snowballed from there.”
Tigers relievers Shane Greene (1 2/3 innings) and closer Francisco Rodriguez (1 1/3 innings) blanked the Indians over the last three innings, while J.D. Martinez put a bow on it with a 413-foot, three-run home run to the bushes in center in the ninth.
“Where we're at, obviously in a perfect world we would've come in and gotten three wins here,” McCann said. “That didn't happen. We found a way to salvage the series with a win today.
“Moving forward, it's win at all costs. Find a way to win and let the chips fall as they may.”