CLEVELAND - Jeremy Bonderman and the Detroit Tigers seem to thrive on adversity.
Bonderman stayed unbeaten despite another shaky first inning and the Tigers defeated the Cleveland Indians 9-2 yesterday to gain a four-game series split.
"It was big to even the series," Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "We can't afford to be far behind these guys."
Gary Sheffield hit a two-run homer for Detroit, which pulled within 2 1/2 games of first-place Cleveland in the AL Central with a second straight win after going
0-5 against the Indians. That included what could have been a disheartening 12-11 loss Friday night in which closer Todd Jones allowed five ninth-inning runs for Detroit's seventh setback in eight games.
"We got our gut tested Friday and came back and won the next two," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm pretty impressed with our team. We showed we're pretty darned good."
Bonderman (5-0) gave up a two-run home run to Victor Martinez four batters in before shutting down a Cleveland offense that averaged 6.9 runs in its previous 11 games. He didn't give up another hit until David Dellucci and Josh Barfield had one-out singles in the seventh.
With two outs, reliever Wilfredo Ledezma walked Grady Sizemore, but got Jhonny Peralta to fly out to left with the bases loaded to end the threat.
After a 17-minute rain delay with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Peralta grounded into a fielder's choice on Jason Grilli's second pitch to him to end it.
Bonderman, sidelined from May 9-24 by a blister on his right middle finger, won his fifth straight start since April 30 after five no-decisions. He allowed four hits over 62/3 innings, striking out six.
After scoring only 10 runs in Bonderman's first four starts, the Tigers have given the right-hander plenty of support with 57 runs in his last six outings.
Sheffield's 13th homer in the first off Jeremy Sowers (1-6) put Detroit ahead 2-0. Omar Infante led off with a double and, one out later, Sheffield hit an 0-1 pitch over the wall in left.
Peralta hit a one-out double and scored on Martinez's 12th homer in the bottom half.
Bonderman has allowed 16 first-inning runs, a 14.40 ERA. In his other 56 innings, his ERA is 1.29.
"I've been doing better [in the first], but I made a mistake today," Bonderman said.
Neifi Perez had an RBI groundout in the second, and Craig Monroe doubled home a run. Curtis Granderson hit an RBI single in the fourth to put Detroit ahead 5-2.
"I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a setback for me to get back to where I need to be," Sowers said.
Cleveland's first-round draft pick in 2005, who went 7-4 as a rookie a year ago, allowed seven hits and five runs in four innings. That put his ERA at 6.48 and his roster spot in jeopardy.
Sowers could be sent to Triple-A Buffalo when Jake Westbrook is ready to rejoin the rotation. Westbrook, out since May 3 with an abdominal strain, is scheduled to make his second injury rehab start at Buffalo on Wednesday.
"Stuff-wise, I was not very pleased with what I brought out there," Sowers said. "Unfortunately, this is not the time for that to happen. Detroit has been seeing the ball well all weekend. They hit around just about every guy we sent out there."
Monroe and Rodriguez each had two of six hits by right-handers off Sowers. Opposing right-handers are batting .350 (63-for-180) against the lefty.
Marcus Thames' two-run single off reliever Tom Mastny made it 7-2 in the fifth. Sean Casey added a two-run single in the ninth.
The Detroit Tigers released right-hander Jose Mesa after their victory over the Cleveland Indians yesterday.
Right-hander Fernando Rodney, sidelined since May 21 with tendinitis in his right biceps, is expected to be activated tomorrow before the Tigers open a three-game series in Texas against the Rangers.
Mesa, signed as a free agent in December, went 1-1 with a 12.34 ERA in 16 appearances for Detroit, his eighth club in a major league career that began 20 years ago.
"They gave me a chance and I didn't do my job," Mesa said, adding that he would like to continue pitching. "I'll see what is out there and if there's nothing, I'll go home and relax. If this is it, I'm happy with [my career]."
In 982 career games, the 41-year-old is 79-107 with a 4.33 ERA and ranks 13th on the career list with 320 saves.41.50436 -81.69046