Streak snapped, Tigers fall into first-place tie

Streak snapped, Tigers fall into first-place tie

Streak snapped, Tigers fall into first-place tie
CLEVELAND -- The Tigers' five-game winning streak is over, as is their sole possession of first place in the American League Central, but it wasn't for lack of trying. If anything, they were trying to do too much against a team with everything to play for.

It looked that way as Quintin Berry and Austin Jackson were both tracking Travis Hafner's seventh-inning drive toward the left-field wall, where the bounce got past them both and put Hafner on third with a triple. It might have been that way for Doug Fister and his sliding sidearm toss home on Aaron Cunningham's ensuing squeeze bunt, though he probably wouldn't have had a play on pinch-runner Lou Marson with the Indians' deciding run in the Tigers' 3-2 loss Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

Whether Detroit hitters were trying to do too much with the ample opportunities they had with leadoff runners on was a fair question. Some of that had to do with the nasty splitter of Ubaldo Jimenez, whom manager Jim Leyland said looked as good as he had seen against the Tigers since he came to Cleveland last July.

Bottom line, after Miguel Cabrera's game-tying two-run homer in the seventh, it took a well-executed squeeze to cool off one of the hottest teams in baseball, and also bring third-place Cleveland within three games in the standings. A White Sox rally past the Twins later in Chicago created a first-place tie atop the division.

At this point, though, the White Sox aren't Leyland's concern. With six Indians wins in seven matchups with the Tigers this year, they have Leyland's attention.

"We know how good Cleveland is," Leyland said. "We had a good ballgame. We just couldn't come up with a big hit. They eked out a run."

The Indians, of course, know. That's why this might be their biggest series of the season.

"Everybody knows what we're playing for," Jimenez said. "Everybody knows that we're trying to compete and trying to win the division. If we want to do it, we have to start right here with these guys."

Tuesday was a start. From the Tigers' view, it was Jimenez's best start since last summer.

Six of Detroit's nine hits were leadoff singles, including five of Jimenez's seven hits over six scoreless innings. Jimenez limited the Tigers to just two hits otherwise, both one-out singles.

At no point did the Tigers have a runner on third base with fewer than two outs, eliminating any chance of a sacrifice fly. Add to that an 0-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position, and Jimenez had the zeros the Indians needed.

"They just gave me a fight," Jimenez said. "They have a really good lineup. Especially the leadoff guy of every inning they found a way to get on base. It was really tough, but I was able to execute my pitches and get ground balls."

Few were stellar plays or hard-hit drives. Detroit's best chance arguably came from Jimenez, whose wild pitch put runners at second and third with two outs for Alex Avila in the sixth. Avila battled Jimenez for nine pitches, fouling off three offspeed pitches with two strikes before striking out.

"He made a couple nasty split pitches on him," Leyland said. "He laid off of one, fouled one off. And then he hung him a split that I think he just missed."

Said Berry: "His splitter was big for him tonight. It was hard to lay off of it."

Jimenez outpitched Fister in a duel of the two biggest pitchers traded at last July's deadline. The mistake the Tigers capitalized on came from Cleveland's vaunted bullpen, when a two-out walk to Berry extended the seventh inning for Cabrera to make reliever Joe Smith pay for a 2-0 sinker.

"I was trying to go in," Smith said. "I thought I got it in. That's Miguel Cabrera. Where I screwed up was walking Quintin Berry."

Cabrera's 301st career homer gave the Tigers a new game. Two key plays in the bottom half turned it back in Cleveland.

Hafner's one-out drive to left field was headed off the wall, but Berry and Jackson -- both speedsters capable of hit-robbing catches -- both pursued it anticipating a play. Jackson pulled up at the last second, but Berry continued into the wall, leaving nobody backing up Jackson when the ball bounced to Berry's right and carried past Jackson.

That bounce seemingly gave the slow-footed Hafner the room he needed to rumble into third base.

"I didn't think it was going to get all the way to the wall," Berry said. "It's one of those things where you've got a guy battling on the mound for you. You try to battle for him and give him everything you possibly can. We both went after it, and neither one of us was backing up. I probably should've pulled up, tried to play it off the wall, but when you think you can get it, you try to go get it."

It was one of six base hits Fister allowed with two strikes.

Once Cunningham stepped to the plate, everyone thought about the squeeze. The question was less if than when.

"That's the thing, you still have to stick to the game plan," Fister said. "You still have to execute the pitch."

Leyland said he thought Cunningham might wait until a favorable count so they couldn't pitch out. He laid it down on the third straight fastball, a 1-1 pitch, and deadened it.

"Great call by Manny [Acta, Indians manager]," Leyland said. "He didn't wait, he got it down and they got the run in. And obviously, that was the run that beat us."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.