CLEVELAND -- The Tigers have been an annual thorn in Cleveland's side during Indians manager Terry Francona's time at the helm. With a 9-4 victory over Detroit on Thursday night, the Tribe continued to flip the script in a rivalry that had been fairly one-sided in recent years.
The Indians used a four-run outburst in the first inning against Tigers top prospect Michael Fulmer, and a four-hit game from Michael Brantley, to cruise to a sweep of a three-game series at Progressive Field. The win improved Cleveland's showing to 6-0 this year against the Tigers, who were 37-19 against the Indians in the previous three seasons combined.
"It's huge," Indians winning pitcher Trevor Bauer said of the early success against Detroit. "I think if you look at the last couple years, our record in the first half of the season against them especially, it feels like every time we play them we get just bludgeoned. Not just beat, but beat bad.
"So, obviously, any time you get a sweep against anybody, and then a division opponent, and one that has beat us badly the last couple years, that's a big boost. I thought we played very well all week."
"They outplayed us. Simple as that," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "They outpitched us. They outhit us. They outdefended us. Period. They were the better baseball team out there. They've been the better baseball team all six games that they've played against us."
After the rough opening frame, in which Mike Napoli belted a three-run home run for his fifth long ball of the season, Fulmer (1-1) managed to last five innings. The Tigers attempted to rally -- Nick Castellanos drilled a three-run homer off Tribe starter Trevor Bauer in the fourth -- but could not overcome the early deficit. Fulmer struck out six and walked two in the loss.
Bauer (2-0) earned the win after being charged with three runs on three hits in his 5 2/3 innings, in which he struck out four and issued a pair of walks. Beyond the early work by Cleveland's offense, Bauer also received some support from recently acquired catcher Chris Gimenez, who contributed a solo home run in the fourth inning.
Cleveland added four runs in the eighth inning to pull away for the win.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED First-inning ambush: With one out in the opening frame, six consecutive Cleveland batters reached base in a swift four-run push. Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and Brantley churned out three straight singles to bring in the Tribe's first run. Then, Napoli pulled an offering from Fulmer over the 19-foot wall in left field for a three-run home run. According to Statcast™, the blast had an exit velocity of 104.8 mph and soared a projected 413 feet from home plate.
"I went to [bench coach Brad Mills], I said, 'Man, this kid [Fulmer] looks like he's going to be tough on right-handers,'" Francona said. "And then, bam. That was kind of big-boy territory there. [Napoli] got on that one pretty good."
Nick takes his cut: The Tigers had one ground-ball single off Bauer before Castellanos stepped to the plate in the fourth and lofted a 2-1 fastball over the fence in the right-field corner for a three-run homer to slug the Tigers back into the game. The AL batting leader improved to 11-for-25 with runners in scoring position. More >
Brantley's big day: Heading into Thursday's action, Brantley was 4-for-24 (.167) since returning from a right shoulder injury. Cleveland's star left fielder looked more like himself against Detroit, collecting four hits, including an RBI single in the first and a two-run double in the eighth. In the sixth, Brantley also made an impressive lunging catch to rob Castellanos of what would likely have been another extra-base hit, ending the inning and eliciting cheers from the Cleveland faithful.
"It felt great," Brantley said of his night. "But, what felt even better was getting this win and finishing out this series. It was a big game for us tonight, especially playing here at home. We have another very good team coming in tomorrow, and we have to be ready to go." More >
Welcome back: After Detroit struck for three runs in the fourth, Gimenez got one back with a first-pitch home run off Fulmer. Acquired via trade from Texas on Wednesday to be Cleveland's backup catcher with Roberto Perez (fractured right thumb) sidelined, Gimenez launched his solo shot over the wall in center. Gimenez, who is in his third career stint with the Indians, last homered for the Tribe on Aug. 27, 2010.
"It's a solo homer, but it's nice to answer back," Francona said. "We scored four early. You feel pretty good, and Trevor hadn't given up much. But, you've got a walk, base hit and a home run. They got two hits, but they got three runs and they're right back in it. So, getting that next run was big, just because we answered back."
"When we play them, our focus is them. Now, we need to move on, because Kansas City is probably already here. But, I also do think we need to play better in our division, and Detroit's the one team that's really had their way. There's a long way to go in this year, but we've done a good job so far." -- Francona
"I'm not surprised. They've got great pitching. Pitching and defense wins games. They made a lot of good plays tonight." -- Tigers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, on the Indians
WHAT'S NEXT Tigers:Jordan Zimmermann (5-0, 0.55 ERA) will try for his sixth win in as many starts as a Detroiter when the Tigers open a three-game series with the Rangers on Friday night in a 7:10 ET game at Comerica Park. Zimmermann could become the first Tiger since George Uhle in 1929 to win each of his first six starts to begin a season.
Indians: Cleveland now turns its attention to another American League Central rival. On Friday, the Indians will open a three-game weekend series against the Royals with a 7:10 p.m. ET tilt at Progressive Field. Righty Danny Salazar (2-2, 2.40 ERA) is slated to start for the Tribe, which is 8-3 against division foes this season.