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CLEVELAND — A game that began with a quiet gathering of 13,924 out to enjoy a pleasant spring night — if not the baseball — gave way to a full-throated revival Tuesday at Progressive Field.
Savor the feeling, Cleveland.
The city‘s agonized fans romped through the night as the last-place Indians thumped Tigers ace Justin Verlander, news of the neighboring Cavaliers’ draft lottery win flashed on the oversized video board in left field, and pigs radioed the air traffic control tower.
Finally, not to be outdone, the Indians flouted similar odds in punctuating a 6-2 win.
A day after ending the Tigers’ 11-game road winning streak, Cleveland again erupted to remind baseball’s hottest team — and Verlander — of their mortality.
Only four outs passed, and already Verlander had matched his season highs in hits (eight) and runs (five) allowed. The Indians smacked Verlander for five runs in the first two innings, then watched 23-year-old starter Trevor Bauer earn a measure of redemption as he deftly worked through the league’s top lineup.
A year after staggering in four starts with the Indians, the quirky former first-round pick made the case for a longer stay this season. Called up earlier Tuesday from Triple-A Columbus, Bauer (1-1) held the Tigers to two runs on seven hits over six innings.
“Performing well is always pleasing,” said Bauer, who went 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA last season. “That was the most frustrating part last year. I didn’t feel like I was contributing, so it’s nice to be able to do that.”
The Indians can sweep the three-game series today.
“We’ve played two very, very good baseball games,” reliever Cody Allen said. “Hopefully this catapults us.”
Verlander (5-3) figured to be the one to temper that enthusiasm. Instead, though he eventually settled and allowed five runs on 11 hit in six innings, the final innings were mere window-dressing. The damage was long done.
With Progressive Field strangely remaining his stadium of horrors — Verlander fell to 9-11 with a 5.29 ERA in Cleveland — he labored early. Nine of the Indians’ first 11 hitters reached base, with the first inning an appetizer for a four-run second. In order, Carlos Santana singled — he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double — Nick Swisher doubled, Yan Gomes walked, Mike Aviles doubled, Michael Bourn doubled, and Asdrubal Cabrera singled. Only back-to-back fly outs that followed likely saved the bullpen from a long night.
“Especially with really good pitchers, you have to make him earn everything,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We made him work real hard, and we just kind of kept the line moving.”
Bauer, meanwhile, carried over his success from Columbus, where he went 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in seven starts.
The Tigers attempted to rattle him early. The second batter of the game, Torii Hunter, lasered a 3-1 fastball 445 feet high into the left-center bleachers — the longest home run by a Tigers player this season. But Bauer kept control. In his second start of the season, he time and again worked ahead with a well-located mid-90s fastball. His only other blemish was a solo homer by Alex Avila in the fifth.
“He did a lot of things good,” Francona said. “He competed, he pitched in, he was aggressive and attacking the strike zone. He changed speeds, used all his pitches, he executed his pitches with men on base. That’s not the easiest assignment when you’re coming up from Triple-A to face them. But he did a really good job.”
The Indians are now 8 ½ games back of the first-place Tigers, whose 27-14 mark remains the best record in baseball.