Cleveland — This one isn’t going to the Smithsonian.
Both teams slopped it up pretty good Sunday in the rubber match of the final trip into Cleveland, but the Tigers’ misplays and misfires proved fatal.
“This is a game that was winnable and we didn’t do enough to win it,” manager AJ Hinch said after the Tigers were beaten 7-5 by the Indians at Progressive Field. “We missed an opportunity to walk out of here with a series win.”
The Tigers, 45-36 since May 8, were looking to win multiple series in Cleveland for the first time since 2015. They were also looking to overtake the Indians and move into second place in the Central.
“We just have to keep fighting to the end,” said center fielder Derek Hill, who’s first career home run staked the Tigers to an early 3-1 lead. “We’re going to come out against Baltimore and I guarantee you’re going to see a really motivated team.”
Indians right fielder Bradley Zimmer blasted a 413-foot home run into the seats in right field off reliever Erasmo Ramirez to break a 5-5 in the seventh.
“We didn’t do enough on either side of the ball to take control of the game,” Hinch said. “And once we gave them a few extra outs and a few extra bases, they took advantage of it. They got it to a tie game and we didn’t hold serve.”
Three of the Indians’ seven runs were unearned. Shortstop Zack Short, who was optioned back to Triple-A Toledo after the game, made a pair of errors. Jose Ramirez was credited with a single on a ground ball that second baseman Willi Castro fielded in shallow right field and then slipped and fell as he was trying to make the throw.
Ramirez, noticing that reliever Joe Jimenez wasn’t paying much attention to him, proceeded to steal second and third.
Jimenez got through the seventh unscathed, but it illustrated the general messiness of this one.
The Indians were the team slopping it up early, making two errors in the first three innings and the Tigers put up five runs against a pitcher they had managed just three runs against in five previous starts and 30.2 inning, Indians ace Zach Plesac.
Credit a subtle lineup change for driving Plesac out of the game early.
Hinch didn’t stack his lineup with left-handed hitters, as he might do against a different type of right-handed pitcher. But against Plesac, he started right-handed hitting Hill instead of switch-hitter Victor Reyes. He started the righty Short instead of lefty Harold Castro.
He did it, in a large part, to neutralize one of Plesac’s best pitches, his change-up. In theory, the pitch is less effective and generally less used by right-handers against right-handed hitters.
Hill gave a demonstration on why that is. He blasted a change-up from Plesac 404 feet into the bleaches in left field in the second inning – a three-run homer.
“It was good to see D. Hill come up with that big swing,” Hinch said. “It jolted our dugout awake.”
Hill didn’t get to enjoy a home run trot, though. The ball bounced back onto the field and there was no immediate indication that it was a homer.
“I got about halfway between second and third and I saw my third base coach (Ramon Santiago) say it was a home run,” Hill said. “I was just making sure.”
There was more messy play in the third. The Tigers scored twice, one on a walk, error and wild pitch, the other on an RBI double by Jeimer Candelario. And Pleasac was at 84 pitches and out of the game after four innings — despite allowing just two hits.
The Tigers’ 5-2 lead didn’t survive the bottom of the fourth inning.
Starter Wily Peralta, who struck out the side in the third, walked Oscar Mercado with one out. Owen Miller, who homered leading off the second, hit a ground ball into the hole at short. Short made a good play to get to the ball, but his throw to second went into right field.
That opened the gates to three unearned runs — sacrifice fly, single by Austin Hedges and a double by No. 9 hitter Ernie Clement.
“It looked like Zack (Short) got himself a little out of position and made the throw to second off-balance and off the bag,” Hinch said. “Then he mishandled the one up the middle. It is unfortunate. He is usually a sure-handed player. It wasn’t a great day for him.”
Short was likely to be sent down regardless of how he played Sunday. Utility player Niko Goodrum will be activated off the injured list on Tuesday in Baltimore.
Ramirez pitched a clean sixth, but the seventh started ominously when Short booted a ground ball by Clement leading off the inning. Clement was thrown out trying to steal second by catcher Grayson Greiner, but he very nearly eluded the tag of second baseman Willi Castro.
He was initially called safe, but it was overturned after video review.
Three pitches later, Ramirez left a cutter over the plate and Zimmer poleaxed it. It was just the second run allowed by Ramirez in 10.1 innings and the second homer in 19 innings.
As Hill said, “On to the next one.”