Emotions rise as Tigers tomahawk Indians in messy win
Cleveland — The Indians poked the bear Friday night – whether they meant to or not. And the bear bit back.
Before the Tigers’ bullpen nearly surrendered a six-run lead in the ninth inning, Miguel Cabrera responded to a first-inning, first-pitch brushback from Indians starter Trevor Bauer by immediately turning and yelling something toward the Indians dugout and manager Terry Francona.
After the inning, Cabrera continued his dialogue with the bench and had to be restrained by home plate umpire Clint Fagan and third base coach Dave Clark.
“It was an argument between Francona and me and that’s it,” Cabrera said after the Tigers held on for a 7-6 win. “I come here to play baseball. But they got upset because I turned to him. He got his point. I got my point, too.”
Francona told reporters that he yelled at Cabrera to get back in the box.
“I told him to go hit,” Francona said. “And he did.”
Did he ever. Cabrera whacked a three-run, opposite-field home run off Bauer in the fifth inning, staking the Tigers and starter Daniel Norris to a 4-0 lead. It was Cabrera's second home run in two games, and his 24th at Progressive Field, most among visiting players.
Alex Avila hit a two-run home run in the sixth to make it 6-0.
“We want to win,” said Cabrera, who also singled and walked twice. “We want to play. We’re not here to hit people. We’re not here to show anybody up. We’re here to play baseball.”
Cabrera said he didn’t say a word to Bauer and when Francona told him to get back in the box, his response was – “Let’s go. Don’t talk to me like that.”
“It was just something I had with Francona,” Cabrera said. “I don’t want to fight. I don’t want guys going up there looking for a fight. I want a good game. But he took it bad. He said something back to me and I was like, ‘OK. That’s it. Whatever.’”
Cabrera said it wasn’t his intention to light a fire under his team. It was just his reaction in the moment.
“It’s just something that happens in baseball; two teams have differences,” he said. “I have nothing against those guys and I have nothing against Francona. I like the way they play. I like the way they went all the way to the World Series last year.
“I don’t have anything against those guys. I like to compete, that’s it.”
The Tigers may have been a little on edge to begin with. Having been drubbed by the Indians 14 times last season, they came in looking for some retribution. On top of that, the memory of Bauer drilling three Tigers (Ian Kinsler, Cabrera and Victor Martinez) in a game at Progressive Field last September had not been forgotten.
“Bauer wasn’t trying to do that (hit Cabrera),” manager Brad Ausmus said. “The players all remember the game last year and I don’t think Bauer was trying to do that either. But at some point you get sick of it.”
Both benches were warned by Fagan and crew chief Dana DeMuth, which was a surprise to Tigers starter Daniel Norris, who had yet to throw a pitch in the game.
“It was frustrating because I don’t think Miggy was really saying anything," Norris said. "He was calming down and I think they were on the same page. After I got the warning, you know, it makes it hard to pitch inside, and that’s part of my game plan.
“I had to be more tentative. You can’t really go up and in once you have a warning.”
Avila, seeing that Norris was upset, went out to the mound to calm him down before the inning started.
“He just told me to pitch my game,” Norris said. “He’s George Clooney. I tell him, when he talks, he’s George Clooney. He comes out there and calms me down. He hates that, but…”
Norris dispatched the Indians on nine pitches in the first inning, so whatever Avila said, it worked.
Though he didn’t have his best command, nor much use of his curveball, Norris still pitched six shutout innings, allowing just two hits with four walks and five strikeouts.
“It was good, not great,” said Norris.
It was his 21st straight start allowing three runs or less. It was also his 16th straight road start without a loss – that’s the fourth longest streak in baseball.
But things got dicey for the Tigers in the eighth and ninth innings.
Kyle Ryan could only get one out in the eighth. He loaded the bases (two singles and a walk) with one out. Ausmus had to use set-up man Justin Wilson to clean up the mess. Shane Greene, who pitched two innings Thursday, was not available.
One run scored on a ground out and, after walking former Tiger Austin Jackson, Wilson struck out Carlos Santana with the bases loaded to end the inning.
The Tigers restored the six-run lead in the top of the ninth on an RBI double by Nick Castellanos. It scored Jose Iglesias, who had three hits, from first.
Again, trying not to use closer Francisco Rodriguez, Ausmus called on right-hander William Cuevas, who was just called up from Toledo. Cuevas also got just one out, allowing a run and leaving the bases loaded for Rodriguez.
Rodriguez struck out Abraham Almonte, but Lonnie Chisehall made it a one-run game with a pinch-hit grand slam.
Rodriguez struck out Jackson to end the game.
“We’ve got to throw strikes,” Ausmus said. “We can’t be walking guys and getting behind guys. There is no reason Justin Wilson and Frankie Rodriguez should have to pitch in that game tonight. We’ve got to do a better job. We all do. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“That’s not a formula for winning. And if it continues, we won’t win. We got through it tonight.”
The Tigers didn’t score a win over the Indians until July 6 last year. This year, the first win came in April – though it took four full hours to clinch it.
“Hey, I am open to talking to Francona if he wants to talk. Tomorrow, though, I know I am going to see lots of inside pitches," Cabrera said with a laugh. "They’re not going to change anything.”