The last time Shane Bieber pitched in Detroit involved an Opening Day snowstorm, bitter cold and a loss, despite 12 strikeouts.
With sunshine, a first-pitch temp in the mid-60s and Bieber back on the hill on Thursday at Comerica Park, the Tigers were in a load of trouble. Cleveland’s right-hander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, fanned 12 and avenged that April 1 defeat with a 5-2 victory to lead the Indians to a series win.
“Talking to [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] coming out of his bullpen today before the game, he felt like [Bieber] was crisp,” said manager Terry Francona, who celebrated his 700th victory as Cleveland’s manager. “You’re never going to guarantee that somebody’s not going to give up runs, because things can happen in a game, but to see him have the crisp to those pitches is really important.”
Bieber was on the attack from the get-go, despite walking the second hitter he faced. From the third hitter on, there was little doubt he was in control. The right-hander allowed just two batted balls out of the infield -- one of them an out -- and had retired 11 in a row by the end of the fifth.
Bieber’s third-inning strikeout of Willi Castro was just one of a dozen, but it was special nonetheless: It marked Bieber’s 600th career K, making him the fastest pitcher in club history to reach the milestone. He needed just 77 games to do so, which was also the third-fastest climb to 600 strikeouts in Major League history behind Yu Darvish (74 games) and Dwight Gooden (76).
“Just tried to use kind of a north-south attack and work with [catcher Austin Hedges],” Bieber said. “We were on the same page from pitch one, really, and I just kind of fell in a rhythm.”
Cleveland’s offense came alive early in the finale to back his effort, with Team Ramirez leading the way. In the first, José Ramírez connected for a two-out single and scored the game’s first run on a double from Harold Ramirez. They then traded knocks in the sixth, when José doubled and scored on Harold’s single.
Eddie Rosario followed with a two-run homer that knocked Detroit starter Matthew Boyd out of the game and gave Cleveland plenty of breathing room while Bieber continued to work his magic.
“He had a pretty good breaking ball today,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He had some finished fastballs later in the game, but the little knuckle curve … when he can throw it over the plate and down, it takes incredible discipline to try to lay off of it.”
With Bieber on his mark, there was little Detroit could do. His slider and curveball flirted with the zone before diving south, and he drew 24 swings and misses with the deception.
Bieber paid for his one mistake pitch, a hung slider to Jonathan Schoop to lead off the seventh inning. Schoop parked it neatly in the left-field seats to spoil the no-no and the shutout, but Bieber responded with back-to-back swinging punchouts and capped his day with a four-seam fastball at the top of the zone that Victor Reyes waved at to end the frame.
Bieber’s final line: seven innings, one hit, four walks and 12 strikeouts.
Cleveland has done the best it can to patch together a starting rotation during a difficult time, due to injuries, command issues and a stretch of 14 games in 13 days. On Wednesday, the Indians hoped rookie Triston McKenzie could save their bullpen, and he responded with the best game he’s had all season.
On Thursday, Bieber did what Bieber does, racking up his sixth double-digit-strikeout game of 2021 and 14th since the beginning of the 2020 season, both of which lead the Majors. More importantly, he gave his team exactly what it needed when it needed it the most.
“We’re going to figure out a way to patch things together for a little bit and continue to win ballgames,” Bieber said. “Whether that’s with the starting rotation, the bullpen, who’s been solid the entire year … or putting more runs on the board with our lineup, our defense, I think we’ve got a number of ways to go out and win ballgames.”
Harold Ramirez weathered an injury scare in the seventh when a Joe Jiménez fastball drifted high and inside. A quick meeting with team staff revealed a large blood blister on the pinkie of his right hand, but he remained in the game.
Francona said Ramirez will get precautionary X-rays, but Ramirez -- who wore a Band-Aid on the digit during his postgame Zoom -- said he’d be available to play Friday.
"The worst part was the big blister on my finger,” he added. “They cut it off already, so I'm going to be OK."