Cleveland — The question took him aback.
“Do I think we laid down?” manager Brad Ausmus said, incredulous. “No. And that’s an insult to even ask the question.”
The Tigers have a lost a lot of baseball games this season, but they haven’t often played as uninspired and lackadaisical as they did toward the latter portion of the 11-2 loss to the Indians Friday night at Progressive Field.
“Mental mistakes happen from time to time,” Ausmus said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve had a ton of them. We did have a couple tonight. But the truth is, at that point, the game was out of hand.”
The game essentially went off the rails in the third inning, when the Indians unloaded for five runs on starter Jordan Zimmermann.
“He was doing well up until the third, but he made quite a few mistakes over the middle of the plate,” catcher Alex Avila said. “And we got hurt as a whole. It was not a good day pitching-wise for us. We were behind in a lot of counts and let a lot of pitches over the middle of the plate."
In his last three starts, Zimmermann has given up 14 runs and 17 hits in 12.2 innings. He had posted four straight quality starts before that.
“Terrible,” Zimmermann said. “I came out feeling good the first couple innings and in the third inning, the wheels fell off. I just didn’t have very good command…I didn’t have my best stuff. My slider got flat
“I’m going to have to take a look at the film and see what went wrong.”
In the fatal five-run third, he gave up a double to Jason Kipnis and a two-run double to Michael Brantley, both on looping sliders.
After an RBI single by Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall spanked a first-pitch curveball over the wall in right field. Chisenhall attacked the pitch, which was down in the zone, like he was expecting it.
Odd, considering in his first at-bat, Zimmermann got him out after throwing five straight fastballs.
“It’s tough, you wouldn’t think he would be (sitting on that pitch) in that situation,” Zimmermann said. “I might have had him out front a little bit but he still got the barrel to it and hit it good.
“I had thrown him five straight fastballs, then on an 0-0 curve ball, it seemed like he was looking for it.”
That became academic, though. The Indians kept scoring runs and the Tigers, shut down for the second time this week by Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco, utterly collapsed.
“We made a couple of mistakes, but the battle level — I didn’t have a problem with that,” Ausmus said. “Guys battled. It’s just Carrasco was really good.”
The Tigers mustered one run off him in seven innings in Detroit last Sunday. They got two runs off him in seven innings Friday.
“Safe to say I didn’t hit him very hard,” said a dry-witted Nick Castellanos, who whiffed three times against Carrasco. “It was difficult for me to pick up his slider, along with everybody tonight. When he’s on, that’s what he does.”
Carrasco’s slider was devastating, evidenced by his season-high 11 strikeouts.
The highlight of his night had to be the fifth — he threw the 80th immaculate inning in major league history — three batters, three strikeouts, nine pitches. He dispatched Castellanos, Mikie Mahtook and Jose Iglesias, each swinging at a third strike slider that broke well off the plate.
“Every time he’s in trouble, he goes to that slider,” Avila said. “You know it as a hitter and you still can’t hit it sometimes.”
The Tigers got within three runs in the sixth. After an RBI single by Miguel Cabrera cut the deficit to 5-2, they had runners at first and third with one out in the sixth. Carrasco slammed the door, striking out J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez.
That’s why Avila didn’t buy the premise that the Tigers may have sagged mentally in this one.
“I would just say it was a bad game, one bad game,” he said. “I didn’t think there was any sag. Guys were ready to play. Guys were prepared. We battled in the middle innings after we were down five. We scored a couple to get back to within one swing with J.D. up.
“Credit Carrasco. He made good pitches when he had to.”
The Indians scored six times in the sixth and seventh to blow the game open.
After left-hander Chad Bell wriggled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth, getting Brantley to hit into a double play, Bradley Zimmer slammed his first pitch of the sixth inning into the center-field shrubbery — 424 feet, his first home run of his career off a left-handed pitcher.
Bell walked the next two hitters before departing. Alex Wilson came on and gave up a two-run triple to Francisco Lindor and an RBI single by Brantley.
The rout was on.
The seventh is when it got ugly. The Indians scored two more off Blaine Hardy. The inning started when Andrew Romine, just in at first base replacing Cabrera (taken out because the game was out of hand), and Hardy couldn’t execute a 3-1 putout at first on a three hopper by Zimmer.
“Hardy has to cover first,” Ausmus said.
After an RBI single by Lindor, Kipnis was on third with one out. Brantley hit a sinking line drive that J.D. Martinez caught on a dive. Kipnis had run up the line and had to run back to tag up.
He wasn’t going to score, until he saw the Tigers lollygag the ball back to second base. He took off and scored easily.
“The outfielder can’t assume the runner is or isn’t running,” Ausmus said. “You always assume he is and you come up firing. It was a couple of mistakes.”
It was the look of a team that has accepted its fate.
“I guess it’s easy to act sluggish in the field and defeated,” Castellanos said. “But it’s our job to not let that happen. All you can do, every day, good or bad is forget about it and come back tomorrow with a new mindset.”