CLEVELAND — The sellout crowd chanting, “Omar! Omar!” The national television audience. The balls screaming out of the ballpark.
It was unofficially ’90s night Saturday in Cleveland.
Except this time, the other guys did the hurtin’.
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Miguel Cabrera hit a run-scoring double in the 10th inning — about the Tigers’ only big hit that wasn’t a home run — to ensure ace Justin Verlander’s return to familiar form ended in victory as Detroit rallied past the Indians 5-4 on a celebratory night spoiled at Progressive Field.
Before a crowd of 40,712 — many there for former Cleveland shortstop and current Detroit coach Omar Vizquel’s induction into the Indians Hall of Fame — the Tigers smacked the hosts at their thundering old game. Victor Martinez continued to traumatize his ex-employer with his second home run in as many nights while Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler broke a tie with back-to-back homers against Indians starter Trevor Bauer in the seventh inning.
The Tigers’ bullpen teased as usual, giving the longest day of the year a 3-hour, 41-minute game to commemorate the occasion.
Joe Nathan revived the closer watch with his fifth blown save of the season. After two straight stress-free ninth-inning outings, he could not protect a one-run lead.
Michael Bourn hit a two-out RBI single to send the game to extra innings and Nathan’s ERA climbing to 6.18.
Nathan (4-2) did get the win. The Tigers answered in the top of the 10th against Cleveland closer Cody Allen, with Kinsler hitting a leadoff single and Cabrera following with a one-out drive off the 19-foot wall in left-center.
Phil Coke struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th to earn his first save since last April.
The endgame was the first-place Tigers’ first three-game winning streak since May 18 and the weight of a concerned city lifted off Verlander’s right shoulder.
Verlander limited the Indians to two runs — one earned — on four hits while striking out eight and walking one over seven innings. It was arguably his finest start of the season, and could not have come soon enough for the 31-year-old ace.
Verlander came to Cleveland ensnared in the worst stretch of his career. He was 2-5 with a 7.83 ERA over his last seven starts — a span in which he landed on the wrong side of history.
Verlander joined Gaylord Perry as the only former Cy Young Award winners ever to allow at least five earned runs in six starts in a seven-start stretch.
Everyone had a theory for what was wrong, including the simple march of time. His ultimate bail-out weapon was suddenly no longer so fierce. According to data from ESPN, Verlander’s average fastball velocity had dropped from an AL-best 95.6 mph in 2009 to 92.6 mph this season. Opponents were hitting .307 against his fastball.
In other words, Indians manager Terry Francona said, “he looked human.”
Yet few can fathom Verlander will not remake himself and return among the game’s elite. For one, he is owed some $150 million over the next five-plus seasons. For another, the sample size of his struggles remain far too small. The Tigers believe it is nothing improved a mechanical tweak and improved command will not fix.
At a loss but defiant, Verlander returned to work the day after his last start. He scrutinized video with Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones, then threw more than 20 pitches on what is usually a rest day. He threw the next two days, too.
“When you have a mechanical flaw, the only way to get rid of it is to practice the correct form,” Ausmus said.
Saturday night marked a return to the old days.
With a fastball that regularly hit 95 with sharp control, he had the Indians flailing. Cleveland scored on a two-out error by Kinsler in the second inning and a solo homer by Carlos Santana in the fourth.
Bauer, meanwhile, matched Verlander for much of the night. Only Martinez got to him, hitting a 415-foot solo homer down the right-field line in the second inning and a run-scoring single in the sixth. Martinez’s 2-for-4 night raised his career average to .369 (72-for-195) against the Indians.
The Tigers chased Bauer in the seventh, with Davis and Kinsler hitting the consecutive one-out homers. Bauer allowed four runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings.