CLEVELAND – It took nine games for the Tigers to gain any sort of lead over the Indians in 2016.
Two innings passed, and the road nine held an insurmountable advantage to start the 2017 series.
Detroit put last year’s struggles against the Tribe (4-14) in the rearview mirror as they won 7-6 on Friday night at Progressive Field.
Trevor Bauer surrendered two bombs while the Tribe’s late-inning rally proved to be too little, too late.
Early tension yields large deficit
One pitch at eye-level was all it took for Miguel Cabrera to glare over at the Indians dugout and throw his hands up in disgust. Although there were no further issues in the inning, Cabrera continued to bark at the home dugout as the umpires issued a warning to both benches.
“Just throw a strike,” said Bauer on his intentions behind the pitch. “I still executed a game plan. I executed it really well.”
The warning prompted both Bauer and Daniel Norris to work more over the middle and outside portions of the plate moving forward in the ballgame.
“I’m not going to run down the steps and hide; I just told him to hit,” manager Terry Francona said on Cabrera’s yelling. “It also makes it tougher on the pitchers. They can say that you can pitch in, but it’s a lot tougher.”
In the following frame, Jose Iglesias singled in Justin Upton on a slow-rolling groundball with a 6% hit probability, according to MLB.com’s Statcast technology.
Bauer labored through two scoreless innings until Cabrera took unleashed his power on an 87-mph cutter to knock in Iglesias (single) and Ian Kinsler (single) on a three-run homer in the fifth, his second of the campaign.
“You could tell he was kind of sitting out over the plate,” said Francona. “He’s a good enough hitter he knows what to do with it.”
With a triple-digit pitch count, the UCLA product could have exited to a final line of 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R/ER, 2 BB, 6 K (105 pitches, 66 strikes, 62.9%).
Instead, Bauer stayed on for the sixth.
The 26-year-old right-hander threw six more pitches, two of which resulted in a single by Tyler Collins and a two-run blast by Alex Avila. Now at 111 pitches, Bauer was done for good.
“We sent him back out just because of last night,” Francona said. “That was a nice piece of hitting. Up-and-away and [Avila] knocked the heck out of it.”
Nick Goody made his first appearance of 2017 just hours after receiving the call to the big leagues from Triple-A Columbus.
“Obviously you want to make a good impression,” said Goody prior to Friday’s game. “Going right after guys and not giving in. Repeating my mechanics would probably be the biggest thing.”
Only Cabrera reached base against Goody on a gift single that landed between Francisco Lindor and Austin Jackson. The Tribe center fielder called for the ball and attempted a basket catch on the play.
Bryan Shaw gave up one run in the ninth, the only score charged to the bullpen’s ledger.
Late-inning offense not enough
A productive night from Edwin Encarnacion was the starting point for the Cleveland bats in the eighth frame. The free agent acquisition ripped his second single of the day and eventually came around to score on a RBI groundout courtesy of Roberto Perez.
Carlos Santana struck out vs. Justin Wilson to leave the bases loaded.
In the ninth, four of the first five hitters reached base off William Cuevas to force manager Brad Ausmus to call on his closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Shortly after striking out Abraham Almonte with the bases loaded, Rodriguez left a 0-1 fastball on the outer third of the strike zone to Lonnie Chisenhall for a pinch-hit grand slam to cut the gap to one run.
“It happened a lot last year where I think we were scuffling a little bit in April and then a few of those games we’re fighting back,” Chisenhall said. “That rolls over - the passion, the fight, the on-base ability.”
The Tribe finished the night batting 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and have a .122 batting average (5-for-41) during run-scoring opportunities over the last four contests.
Central Division update
The White Sox (5-4) edged past the Twins (6-4) while the Royals (4-6) crushed the Angels by a score of 7-1.
Game 2 of the weekend series is slated for 4:10 p.m. ET on Saturday at Progressive Field.
RHP Corey Kluber (0-1, 5.25) will make his third start of the campaign after delivering three runs (two earned) on six hits in six innings of work on Sunday in Arizona. Kluber turned 31-years-old on Monday.
RHP Justin Verlander (1-0, 1.35) is in search of his 318 consecutive appearance with at least one strikeout, the ninth-longest strike among all pitchers since 1913. The six-time All-Star features a 78-51 record and 3.69 ERA against the AL Central.