CLEVELAND -- Nicholas Castellanos didn’t want the tarp to go on as the rain began to pound Progressive Field in the seventh inning Monday night. Nick Goody lobbed him a ball as home-plate umpire Laz Diaz stopped the game, and Castellanos laid down a swinging bunt before laughing on his way down the first-base line.
“[Diaz] laughed,” Castellanos said.
Castellanos wanted one more pitch before the rain delay. Victor Alcántara got two in earlier, but it was the eight he threw after the delay that doomed him in an 8-6 Tigers loss to the Indians.
Between the top of the seventh inning and a 54-minute rain delay, Alcantara went one hour, nine minutes between retiring Francisco Lindor to end the sixth inning and facing Oscar Mercado to begin the bottom of the seventh. It was a long stretch, longer than many starters endure during a rain delay, but one Alcantara felt he could handle.
“All I can go by is what he was saying,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “How many pitches did he throw before [the delay]? Two pitches. And he had to warm up, so he was fine. He’s been off for 14 minutes. As far as his arm goes and all those things, he was fine. His velocity was fine. He never hit a location one time. He missed across the zone every pitch, and that’s why he got hurt.”
All four hitters Alcantara faced when he returned hit him. A hanging slider on a 1-1 pitch to Mercado ended up in the left-field bleachers for Mercado’s second homer of the night, putting Cleveland on top for good. Carlos Santana and Jordan Luplow hit back-to-back ground-ball singles before Jose Ramirez, whose slick backhanded stop stranded two Tigers in the top of the inning, ripped a two-run double into the right-field corner for what turned out to be the deciding tallies.
“When [catcher John] Hicks set up in, he threw it out. When Hicks set up out, he threw it in,” Gardenhire said. “Yeah, that’s a long time to sit. But I trust my pitching coach [Rick Anderson]; always have. And Victor was telling us he feels great.”
Alcantara hadn’t pitched since July 3; he just returned from a trip to the 10-day injured list following dental surgery.
“Obviously, the results weren’t good,” Gardenhire said, “but I don’t think that was because of anything other than he just misfired.”
The decision whether to bring Alcantara back out for the seventh inning was the second tricky choice Gardenhire faced in as many innings, spaced an hour or so apart. As the rain loomed to the west, starter Daniel Norris was an out away from finishing the sixth with a 5-3 lead and a chance at what would’ve been his first win since May 12. All he had to do was finish off an 0-2 count on Roberto Perez, who had walked in his previous two plate appearances. Perez was 1-for-6 in his career against Norris, but the lone hit was a home run two years ago.
Norris couldn’t get Perez to chase a slider, so he challenged him with a 1-2 fastball over the plate. Perez lined it into right field to continue the inning.
“I just threw the wrong pitch, really,” Norris said later. ”I think if I throw something else there, the at-bat’s probably over.”
Gardenhire had lefty Daniel Stumpf warming, but he gave Norris one more chance, this time a lefty-lefty matchup. Mike Freeman had homered off Norris in the second inning, but he struck out on a slider in the fourth.
Again, Norris got ahead as Freeman fouled off a slider. After a fastball up, Norris went back to the slider. This time, Freeman connected for a line drive into right field. This time, Gardenhire came out.
“He had two chances,” Gardenhire said. “He got the first two outs, and then two rocket line drives in a row. He got up to [near] 90 pitches, and we’re not going to leave him out there to let him lose it there. He had two hitters, and he didn’t put either one away, but he did fine, a really nice job against a good-hitting baseball team.”
On came Stumpf for another lefty-lefty matchup against Tyler Naquin, whose double down the left-field line cleared the bases, tied the game and brought on Alcantara.
“One out,” said Norris, whose eight strikeouts matched his season high from a June 23 matchup with the Indians. “That’s just baseball. It happens. I felt really good about the way I was throwing the ball. That’s just part of it.”
Not since Sept. 1, 2014, had the Tigers hit four home runs in a game at Progressive Field. Jordy Mercer’s second of the night tried to ignite a Tigers rally in the ninth. Long after Castellanos tried to beat the rain, he had one more chance to beat the Indians, stepping to the plate as the potential tying run with two outs in the ninth. Brad Hand struck him out for the save.
It was the fourth loss in as many tries for the Tigers in Cleveland this season, and their ninth loss against the Indians in 10 games overall. It was also a game that looked headed the Tigers' way.