Tigers power surge muted by Indians' post-rain delay fireworks
Cleveland — The Tigers continue to score runs — a little-used sentence this season.
They have produced five or more runs in eight of their last 10 games. They followed their season-high, 12-run output Sunday in Kansas City by hitting four home runs Monday against the Indians.
Two of those home runs were struck by Jordy Mercer, who had but one entering the game.
Not that that power surge was sufficient, mind you. The Indians came out of a 54-minute rain delay and scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning — all off reliever Victor Alcantara — and beat the Tigers for the eighth straight time this season, 8-6.
Rookie center fielder Oscar Mercado broke the 5-5 tie with his second home run of the game and, three batters later, Jose Ramirez ripped a two-run double.
Alcantara had thrown two pitches to get the Tigers out of the sixth inning, then sat through the rain delay — an 103-minute wait for him.
"He had just thrown two pitches before," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "As far as his arm goes, he was fine. His velocity was fine. But he never hit a location one time. He was missing across the zone, every pitch.
"Yeah, he had a long wait. But the results were not because of anything other than he just misfired."
Before all that, though, the Tigers put themselves in position to win a game at Progressive Field for just the third time in the last 17 meetings.
But first, a funny story about how Nick Castellanos ended up batting cleanup ahead of Miguel Cabrera on Monday.
“It came up on my computer and I decided to keep it in,” Gardenhire said before the game. “I plugged Miggy back in there because he wasn’t there (Sunday), stuck him into the three-hole and I looked and Nick was in the four-hole.
“And I’m going, ‘Shoot, that looks pretty good.’ ”
It was a tad more scientific than that, of course. Gardenhire has always disliked hitting Cabrera fourth.
“I just don’t like it when we go one-two-three in the first inning and Miggy’s leading off the second,” he said. “I’ve hated that every time we’ve done it. Seeing him leading off does nobody any good.”
Castellanos was in Gardenhire’s office the minute the lineup was posted. So was bench coach Steve Liddle and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon.
“Nick came in and asked the same question, what’s behind this?” Gardenhire said. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him I turned my computer on and there it was (laughter)… We sat and talked about it for a long time. We talked about the pros and cons of the whole thing and we decided, this actually looks better.”
With Victor Reyes and Harold Castro getting on base plenty lately, and Cabrera hitting close to .300, Gardenhire figured they might be able to generate some traffic in front of Castellanos right out of the gate.
“We scored too many runs yesterday, I had to change something,” he said, laughing.
Crazy thing, it almost went as scripted in the first inning.
Reyes led off with a single and Castro blasted an Adam Plutko pitch off the wall in center field. Third-base coach Dave Clark waved Reyes home. The relay from center fielder Oscar Mercado to shortstop Francisco Lindor to the plate was perfect.
Reyes slid directly into the shin guard of catcher Roberto Perez and was called out by home plate umpire Laz Diaz. Gardenhire immediately challenged that Perez illegally blocked the plate. But the review board in New York confirmed the call.
It said Perez set up legally and the throw drew him into Reyes’ path.
The altered batting order ended up not impacting much after that because most of the Tigers offense came off the long ball.
Christin Stewart blasted a two-run home run in the fourth — his first since June 21 (also at Cleveland). He’d gone 65 plate appearances between dingers.
Stewart also threw a runner out at second base — his second outfield assist of the year. Ramirez tried to stretch a single to a double. Stewart played the carom off the wall expertly and his throw beat him easily.
Mercer, who is still running gingerly on the right quad that kept him out for two months, hit his second homer of the year leading off the fifth. He’d doubled and scored in the third.
He led off the ninth against closer Brad Hand and cracked his third home run of the season.
"He said to me in the dugout, 'Should I take a pitch?' " Gardenhire said. "I said, 'Do you think you should take a pitch off that guy?' No. So he hit a home run and he had a big smile on his face."
In the sixth inning, Jeimer Candelario ended Plutko’s night with a titanic 449-footer to right-center. That was Candelario’s seventh homer, and his fifth since June 26.
At that point, the Tigers led 5-3 and Daniel Norris was working on a quality start. He struck out a season-high eight and the only damage until the bottom of the six were home runs by Mike Freeman and Oscar Mercado.
Norris quickly got the first two outs in the sixth, too. But he gave up singles to Perez and Freeman and Gardenhire pulled him. He brought in left-hander Daniel Stumpf to face left-handed hitting Tyler Naquin.
Naquin squibbed one inside the third-base line and it caromed off the side wall past Stewart — two-run double, tie score and another good-looking start by Norris spoiled.
"He had two chances to get the last out," Gardenhire said of pulling Norris. "Two rocket line drives in a row. We're not going to leave him out there and let him lose it. He had to come out of the game.
"And Stumpf made a good pitch and you saw what happened. He squibbed it down the line. Stumpf did his job. How the guy hit that ball, we don't know."
Trevor Rosenthal, his contract purchased from Triple-A Toledo before the game, made his Tigers debut, striking out two in a scoreless eighth inning. His fastball ranged in velocity from 97-99 mph and his slider was effective.
He also threw one pitch behind the head of Naquin and uncorked a wild pitch.