CLEVELAND -- The Tigers leave town with three wins this season at Progressive Field, which is more than they had in their previous two seasons combined. But they’ll hit the road regretting the chance they missed at one more.
“This is a game that was winnable, and we didn't do enough to win it,” manager A.J. Hinch said of a 7-5 loss in the rubber match on Sunday afternoon. “And we missed an opportunity to walk out of here with a series win.”
What looked like a gift for the Tigers to win a series in Cleveland for the second time in six weeks vanished in one disastrous fourth inning. Bradley Zimmer’s two-run homer in the seventh inning completed an Indians rally of five unanswered runs and finished Detroit’s dreams of moving ahead of Cleveland in the win column.
Instead, the Tigers sit 2 1/2 games back of second place in the American League Central. They’ll play three more games against Cleveland next weekend at Comerica Park.
Detroit has lost six straight season series to the Indians, including this year. It last won a season set in this series in 2015, just before Cleveland began its run of dominance atop the AL Central. It’s also the last time the Tigers won four games in a season in Cleveland. Sunday seemed like the chance to end the aura of this ballpark on a day when they made Indians starter Zach Plesac pay for uncharacteristic walks.
Derek Hill’s first Major League home run plated three second-inning runs, two of which reached by walks. Add in a third-inning wild pitch to score Jonathan Schoop and a Jeimer Candelario double to drive in Eric Haase, and Detroit scored five runs on just two hits through their first three innings against a pitcher that had allowed just three runs over 30 2/3 innings in his career against the Tigers before the series finale.
Even with Miguel Cabrera on the bench with a scheduled day off, the Tigers loaded up with five right-handed hitters against Plesac to try to neutralize his changeup. Both hits against him came off the changeup.
“We had a game plan going in against him,” Hill said, “and I feel like we executed it pretty well, to be honest.”
Instead of needing a pitching duel to win, the Tigers simply needed to hold down Cleveland’s offense. Detroit starter Wily Peralta had given up a couple early runs on a Franmil Reyes RBI single and an Owen Miller solo homer, but Peralta took the mound for the fourth with a 5-2 lead.
A leadoff groundout made Reyes the seventh consecutive batter Peralta had retired, but Oscar Mercado’s one-out walk set Cleveland’s rally in motion. Zack Short’s errant throw to second on Miller’s grounder put runners at second and third with one out. Andrés Giménez plated Mercado with a sacrifice fly before Austin Hedges’ RBI bloop single extended the inning for Ernie Clement’s game-tying double to left.
All three fourth-inning runs were unearned thanks to the first of Short’s two errors on the day. Short was optioned to Triple-A Toledo after the game to make room for Niko Goodrum’s expected return from the injured list on Tuesday in Baltimore.
Still, it was a tumultuous frame for Peralta, who entered the day allowing a .303 batting average and .967 OPS to hitters in his second turn through a batting order.
“I think it was a little bit of a grind for him,” Hinch said. “I don’t think he was at his best and executing perfectly. It looked like he was just off the plate here or there. The walk [to start] the meltdown inning for us was key. He wasn’t particularly sharp.”
That has been a recent trend. After tossing seven scoreless innings against the Twins in his first start out of the All-Star break, Peralta was 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA. He has given up 18 runs (14 earned) on 23 hits over 18 2/3 innings in his four starts since then. The Tigers are 2-2 in those games.
Though Detroit chased Plesac after four innings, it missed chances to pull ahead against a new-look Cleveland bullpen in the middle frames. Enter Zimmer, who haunted the Tigers with his defense earlier in his career, but this time he put Cleveland in front with a drive to right-center off Erasmo Ramírez.