CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians defeated the Detroit Tigers for the 12th time in 13 tries this season, besting their division rivals at Progressive Field, 11-4.
This column presents my takeaways from Friday’s game. For more baseball analysis and insight, follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL
Mike Napoli has gotten pretty good at hitting balls over the 19-foot left field wall at Progressive Field. But hitting them over on a one-hopper? That’s a new one.
Of course, it helps when Tigers left fielder Justin Upton loses a ball in the early evening sky, enabling Napoli to clear the fence with a hefty bounce over the mini green monster in left.
The drive to left off Tigers rookie starter Michael Fulmer would have put one on the board even if Upton had scene it from the jump, but the two-run ground-rule double over the wall was just one of many instances which hit on a bigger point for Cleveland: The Indians took advantage of every mistake Detroit made on Friday night and capitalized on their way to victory.
Some of the Tigers’ miscues included:
— B6: A throwing error by center fielder Cameron Maybin led to a run.
— B7: A balk by reliever Bruce Rondon led to an RBI single by Jose Ramirez.
— B8: A throwing error by Miguel Cabrera allowed Rajai Davis to score on RBI single by Roberto Perez.
Jumping all over every Tigers mistakes only helped further demoralize a club who has already had issues against Cleveland in 2016 — a complete role reversal from years past.
“I thought we also were aggressive at the right times and took advantage of it,” manager Terry Francona said. “But man it’s nice to put a few runs up because their lineup is so potent. And when they sniff it coming, they get even better. It was nice to put a little distance [from them].”
2. OUT OF THE PARK
And in case you forgot — and based on the 34 homers Napoli has clubbed this season, you probably haven’t — the veteran right-handed slugger has hit some pretty majestic drives over the left field wall at Progressive Field this season.
Friday’s bomb off Fulmer was certainly one of Napoli’s more memorable moonshots.
The fifth-inning two-run blast by Napoli traveled beyond the Pierre’s Ice Cream stand on the Home Run Porch and bounced past the railing that closes off the stadium and made its way toward the parking garage outside Gateway Plaza as a few fans gave chase.
Napoli’s career high 34 homers this season are the most for any Indians hitter in a single season since Travis Hafner clubbed 42 round-trippers in 2006.
“For me, a high fastball like that, I swing at them a lot, but I don’t really connect with them,” Napoli said with a giant smile. “For me to get on top of that one and be able to drive it, I was pretty excited about it.”
3. THAT WORKS
When Francona said Corey Kluber pitched better than his final line score indicated, he probably wasn’t too far off base. Kluber had his issues with Upton, who connected on a pair of homers and drove in four runs in the ballgame, but outside of the right-handed slugger, the Tribe’s ace was able to navigate his way through a dangerous lineup while benefiting from a solid cushion.
At the end of the day, the Indians’ righty was charged with four runs on five hits in seven innings, walking three and striking out seven to pick up the victory on Friday night. But it was his ability to keep Ian Kinsler, Maybin, Cabrera and Victor Martinez from going wild which kept things from spiraling out of control.
The top four in Detroit’s lineup finished 1-for-13 in Cleveland’s rout.
“I think that it all starts with Kinsler,” Kluber said. “He’s the tablesetter for them. Obviously, he’s a very good player and when he’s going well, it makes the lineup that much more dangerous. So, with every lineup, getting the leadoff hitter out is an emphasis. Maybe a little bit more so with them.”
Beyond Friday’s win, Kluber moved into sole possession of 11th on the Indians’ all-time strikeout list, surpassing Addie Joss’ 920 punchouts. Kluber also became the first Tribe pitcher to record three straight season of 200 innings or more since Jake Westbrook from 2004-2006.
4. BONUS ROUND
Roberto Perez picked a perfect day to contribute with the stick.
Hours after the team announced that catcher Yan Gomes had suffered a non-displaced right wrist fracture after getting hit by a pitch in his final Minor League rehab game, Perez came through in several ways on Friday night, perhaps taking some of the sting away from the seemingly endless cloud of bad news which has plagued Gomes throughout the year.
Perez laid down a sacrifice bunt, contributed a sacrifice fly and drove in a run with a single on Friday night, adding to his quiet production over the past 20 games.
Sure, the struggles were pretty apparent when the right-handed hitter returned from the thumb injury which cost him a large chunk of the season. And it’s hard to hide from .181 batting average this late in the season. But with the game noticeably slowing down and his feet comfortably underneath of him, we’re seeing more of the real Roberto Perez.
That couldn’t be happening at a better time for Cleveland.
“We’ve seen him hit,” Napoli said of Perez. “He had that [thum] injury coming back and struggled, but his BP has been looking better every day. We talk hitting, but you could see his confidence growing day by day. We’re not worried about him. He’s done a good job behind the plate with the pitchers, and when he starts hitting, it’s a bonus.”
5. PARTY FUEL
This weekend’s series, given Cleveland’s lead in the AL Central over Detroit, had a different feel than most on Friday night. Progressive Field was packed with more than 29,000 fans. Each person in attendance was encouraged to wear red and received pom-poms to waive throughout the game.
From the first pitch, there was a different energy in the ballpark. It wasn’t quite to the level of a playoff atmosphere at Progressive Field, but it was pretty close. And Napoli said the team fed off of that.
“It was nice, especially coming off that road trip it was a so-so road trip, but we’ve played really well at home all year,” Napoli said. “I think all of us were looking forward to coming back home and sleeping in our beds and playing in front of our fans. It was electric. We got people [in the stands], the pom-poms, the red shirts and you could just feel the energy, which is adrenaline for us.”
Kluber added: “It’s fun. That’s what we’re working towards every year, to have games like this later on in the year, and hopefully past the regular season. That’s what everybody is striving for, so I think when you get into these situations, after you’ve worked so hard to get there, it’s fun to embrace them.”
With the win, the Indians extended their lead in the AL Central over Detroit to seven with 15 games to play, and Cleveland’s magic number to clinch the division was reduced to nine.
If the Fat Lady ain’t singing yet, she’s certainly warming up the vocal cords as we speak.