ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
DETROIT — Justin Verlander faced the Indians on Saturday coming off his best start of another dominant season.
Naturally, Cleveland liked its odds.
The streaking Indians rattled another in a line of former Cy Young Award winners in a 7-6 victory on a wild night at Comerica Park.
A sold-out crowd watched Cleveland jump on Verlander early, then desperately hold on late, with closer Chris Perez getting Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera to hit a game-ending groundout with two on.
The Indians (19-15) won for the 11th time in 13 games and, continuing one of baseball's stranger trends this season, improved to 6-1 against former Cy Young Award winners.
They dusted reigning NL winner R. A. Dickey on opening day, feasted on defending AL winner David Price a week later, and went on to rock Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Bartolo Colon. Jake Peavy is the only former Cy Young winner to top the Tribe.
Verlander was the latest, with the Indians running his pitch count into triple digits by the fifth inning. The Tigers ace allowed four runs — three earned — on six hits and five walks over five innings, matching his shortest outing of the season.
Asked about the Indians’ run of success against the very best pitchers, Indians manager Terry Francona replied, "Well, we’ve faced enough of them."
"I just thought our effort against Verlander was tremendous," he said. "He's so good, and we made him work for everything and drove his pitch count up. ... We always give an effort, but the quality of our at-bats was really good."
In fact, for one night, it was unclear which pitcher was the ace. Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez, pitching in his stadium of horrors, struck out eight and held the Tigers to one run on three hits over six innings. He won a third straight start for the first time since 2011 — the season his once-promising career took a dramatic detour.
Jimenez, who has spent the last two-plus seasons searching with little success for the form that made him an all-star with the Rockies in 2010, has now allowed three runs over his last 18 2/3 innings after yielding 19 in his first 17 innings. Most telling, the oft-wild right-hander issued only one walk and threw 63 of 93 pitches for strikes.
"I think it’s all about my mechanics," said Jimenez, who was 1-6 with a 7.45 ERA in seven prior starts at Comerica Park. "The last three games, I’ve been able to repeat my motion."
It was only when the bullpen got involved that the night took a pleasing turn for the chilled crowd that lingered to the end.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
After Jimenez left with a 6-1 lead, the Tigers answered with four runs in the seventh and made life familiarly tense for Perez in the ninth.
Perez earned his sixth save after coming in with a 7-5 lead, but barely. He struck out Jhonny Peralta to open the inning and appeared to get the second out on a routine grounder to third base from Brayan Pena. But first baseman Nick Swisher dropped an on-target throw from Mike Aviles to give the Tigers life.
"I just dropped it, man," Swisher said. "That's it. I started staring at [the ball], I was cussing at it. … I should have caught it, no doubt, man. I told CP, ’Hey dog, you need to help me out here, bro. You need to pick me. up. That shouldn't happen."
Perez worked into further trouble as Omar Infante followed with a single and Torii Hunter hit an RBI single two batters later to put runners on first and second with two outs and the Indians protecting a 7-6 lead. But Perez got Cabrera to ground a 3-2 outside fastball to third.
"Just a great game," Swisher said. "We just made it a little more interesting than we should have."
As it often does in baseball, the night belied a lopsided pitching matchup on paper.
Verlander was 45-15 since 2011 and 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA this year. But after carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his last start at Houston, Verlander labored from the start Saturday. Michael Bourn hit a leadoff single, and five of the first six Indians batters reached base in a two-run first inning punctuated by an RBI double by Swisher hit and a bases-loaded walk by Jason Giambi.
Verlander’s first inning featured 35 pitches, two hits, three walks — including the first bases-loaded free pass of his career— and the rare theater of a visit from pitching coach Jeff Jones.