CLEVELAND — Perhaps it’s time the Indians turn their attention to the American League wild-card race. Winning the Central Division doesn’t look real promising at this point.
Another game against first-place Detroit brought another loss for Cleveland, which dropped a 5-1 decision Tuesday that assured the Tigers of at least a split of the key four-game division series at Progressive Field.
Detroit’s dominance of the Indians has been well-documented. The Tigers have won 11 of 14 meetings this season, including seven of eight on Cleveland’s turf. The two-time defending division champs won the first game of the series by rallying against closer Chris Perez in the ninth inning, then beat the Indians’ ace Justin Masterson to set a disappointing tone for the home team.
“These past two games have been tough,” said first baseman Nick Swisher, whose team trails Detroit by five games after the Tigers’ 10th straight win. “We’re just not getting the job done.”
In a battle of aces, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander returned to his Cy Young form to get the better of Masterson, allowing just a run on four hits, while striking out seven over eight innings.
Cleveland has had success against the former Cy Young Award and MVP winner this season, but did little against him this time around, scoring its lone run on a groundout from Ryan Raburn in the second inning.
“We had a couple chances and he seemed to find another gear tonight, which, unfortunately, we have seen before,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Meanwhile, Masterson was done in by one shoddy inning, with the Tigers scoring all of their runs in the fifth.
“It was all done in 16 pitches,” Francona said of the fateful fifth inning. “Other than that, Masty was really good. But you give them an opening, that’s what they can do.”
“I just didn’t do a good job of minimizing damage,” said Masterson, who allowed five runs on seven hits over seven innings. “Everything was up in the zone.”
Landing the big blow in the inning was, not surprisingly, left fielder Don Kelly, who hit a two-out, three-run home run. Kelly, an unheralded utility player, has mastered Cleveland’s big right-hander throughout his career, going 11-for-24 against Masterson. He is 5-for-7 off Masterson this year, with six RBIs and two homers — one a game-winning shot.
“He loves facing me,” Masterson said of Kelly. “If I was Superman, he’d be my kryptonite. I guess there’s always a guy. He salivates when I’m out there.”
The day began poorly for the Indians, who placed starting pitcher Corey Kluber on the disabled list with a right finger sprain that could end the right-hander’s season.
Francona said Kluber sustained the injury on one of his final pitches in a sparkling outing against Detroit on Monday. Cleveland hasn’t made an announcement on who will replace Kluber in the rotation, but it will likely be right-hander Danny Salazar, who will start against the Tigers tonight.
“It’s disappointing in a lot of ways,” Francona said. “We’re right in the thick of things and we’re running Corey Kluber out there and feeling pretty good about ourselves. It makes it harder. It doesn’t mean we can’t do it. It just makes it harder.”
“It’s been one bad thing after another,” Swisher said. “He’s been such a big part of our team. To lose a guy like that, especially down the stretch, that’s the last thing you want to hear. Either way, we’ve got our work cut out.”
With things going decidedly in the wrong direction against Detroit, the Indians, a resilient bunch all season, are keeping the fight alive.
“They got us tonight, unfortunately, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Masterson, whose team entered the night a half game behind Tampa Bay and Texas in the wild-card race. “It’s not the end of the world for us. Yeah, we want to win this series, but our fate will ultimately be decided over the next 50-some games. If we don’t play well, there’s no sense in talking about it.”
“It’s too early,” said Swisher when asked if he felt the season slipping away. “Normally, in a situation like this, it comes down to the last couple weeks. But we’ve got to get these last two. They’re putting it on us pretty good.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Salazar (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. Fister (10-5, 3.52)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio, Channel 3; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM