CLEVELAND — It got serious in the top of the third inning. Serious heat, that is.
And it didn’t take the fans at Progressive Field long to warm up, so to speak, to Danny Salazar, their newest starting pitcher and the smoking-est arm in these parts in some time.
Next time he pitches, maybe there will be more than 20,169 in the stands.
There was only one guy sitting in the upper deck in right field Wednesday night. He was in charge of hanging the K’s on the strikeout meter.
When the third inning ending, that dude posted his third K in about five minutes and went into a series of exaggerated bows as Salazar left the mound.
Hot stuff, indeed.
Now, this story doesn’t end so happily for Salazar, although we don’t know about his Cleveland Indians. At last check, the Tribe and the Detroit Tigers had emptied their benches, exhausted their bullpens and were headed long into the night locked in extra innings at 4-4.
As for Salazar, though, Miguel Cabrera got the last laugh in the top of the eighth. Salazar threw one pitch too many, it approached the plate at 96 miles per hour and left the stadium 449 feet later, just to the right of dead center, followed by a supersonic vapor trail.
There are laws of averages you don’t toy with. Don’t tug at Superman’s cape. Salazar had struck out Cabrera three times. Made him look silly, in fact. Tribe manager Terry Francona should never have let his rookie try for No. 4.
Until he did, this game was a lot of fun and a shot in the arm for a Cleveland team and fans that must sense a pennant race on the verge of slipping away.
This was Salazar’s second major league start. The first came on July 11 when he pitched six innings of two-hit, seven-strikeout ball against Toronto. He was optioned back to Triple-A Columbus the next morning.
He’s not going anywhere this time.
This was mapped out as another of those sips — not even a full cup of coffee — for Salazar. Up to the bigs, then back to the smalls. But Corey Kluber landed on the disabled list and the Tribe rotation suddenly had a big hole. No, Salazar isn’t going anywhere for awhile.
Anyway, back to that third inning.
No, wait, first the first inning. Salazar got two outs on six pitches, three of them registering 98 mph. Then Cabrera, the best offensive player in the game, stepped in. Would Salazar show caution or throw it to the wind?
Cabrera got five straight 99-mph fastballs, the count went full, and Salazar snapped off an 88-mph breaking pitch that almost screwed Cabrera into the ground for a swinging strike three.
OK, now the third. Austin Jackson took a called third strike that the gun read at 99. On the third pitch to Torii Hunter, it finally said 100. Salazar followed that with an 87-mph hook that sent Hunter back to the bench. Then it was Cabrera again — 100, 99, 99; strike-strike-strike. Thanks for playing, Miggy.
By this time, the crowd was treating every two-strike count like it was the top of the ninth.
You should have heard the joint in the top of the sixth when he got Cabrera swinging again — for the third time — on a 100-mph pellet.
And you can guess how quiet Progressive Field got when Cabrera got even.
Serious heat. And then a vapor trail.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.