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DETROIT — In more than 22 years as a major league manager, Jim Leyland has found his mood on the drive to the ballpark shaped by the same thread.
“You think about who’s pitching that day, and how do you feel?” he said. “You feel good, you’re in pretty good shape. You don’t feel good, you’re not.”
“I feel good every day I come here,” Leyland said.
As for Indians manager Terry Francona, well, don’t ask.
The Tigers’ 6-4 victory over Cleveland on Saturday unfolded like clockwork before a sold-out crowd of 41,691 at Comerica Park.
Rick Porcello (3-3) kept in motion baseball’s best assembly line of starting pitching with six strong innings while the Indians, relying on an 11th-hour starter, continued their now-annual migration south in the standings.
Detroit jumped early on Carlos Carrasco (0-2), who lasted just four innings after he was called up Saturday from Triple-A Columbus to fill in for injured starter Zach McAllister. Prince Fielder’s three-run double anchored a four-run second inning, and the Tigers added two in the third, then withstood an eventful afternoon from the bullpen — including another tension-filled ninth by closer Jose Valverde — to win their third straight.
The Indians, meanwhile, lost their sixth straight and 14th in 18 games, falling 4 1/2 games behind the AL Central-leading Tigers. It was their 10th straight loss on the road, and signs of frustration were everywhere.
After the Indians batted in the eighth inning, Indians manager Terry Francona spotted Nick Swisher discussing a balls-and-strikes call with plate umpire Andy Fletcher, and walked out of the third-base dugout. He was tossed in short order, his second ejection in six days after avoiding a single early exit over the first two months.
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“It looked to me that [Swisher and Fletcher] were just talking,” Francona said. “Then when I saw Andy get a little more animated, I went out there. I had no intentions of getting thrown out of the game. I just wanted to get in between he and Swish. The way Andy approached me, I thought he lost his composure. I don’t think I had any chance of staying in that game — the spit coming out of his mouth, the gesturing and everything.”
On the other side, it was more of the same as Porcello gave the Tigers their 14th quality start in the last 15 games — a stretch in which Detroit starters are 8-4 with a 2.52 ERA.
Porcello staggered early, saying he was “rushing” when the Indians led off the game with back-to-back hits — a double by Michael Bourn and an RBI single by Jason Kipnis — to go ahead 1-0. But the 24-year-old right hander quickly settled, and limited the Tribe to two runs — one earned — on three hits while striking out seven over six innings.
“That was really good,” Leyland said of Porcello, who turned in his third straight quality start after an uneven first two months. “He’s coming of age.”
Of the Tigers’ rotation — a staff that also includes two-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, and Doug Fister — Valverde just smiled.
“I’ve been pitching for a long time,” he said, “and never in my life have I seen anything like this. These guys are unbelievable.”
The Indians have no such luxury, which showed again Saturday. Carrasco struggled with his command from wire to wire, allowing six runs on 10 hits and three walks in four innings. Among his downfalls was a failure to throw his mid-90s fastball inside — an aversion perhaps stemming from his eight-game suspension in April for “intentionally throwing” at New York’s Kevin Youkilis.
Carrasco, who was sent down immediately after his April suspension and was able to pitch on appeal Saturday, denied that was the case afterward. Francona, though, said, “His stuff is electric, but there’s still some learning to do.”
“He didn’t pitch in and he lets them get their arms extended, and then it takes away the effectiveness of his breaking ball because they don’t respect it,” Francona said. “When he learns to start throwing that fastball in, he’s going to be special.”
Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn, formerly of the Mud Hens and Tigers, pulled the Tribe within two at 6-4 with a two-run homer in the seventh off Luke Petkonen. And Valverde’s usual high-wire act in the ninth set off another wave of boos.
Called in to protect a 6-4 lead, Valverde allowed a one-out walk and a single to put the tying run on base. He ended the game with strikeouts of Raburn and Mike Aviles for his eighth save.