CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The batter-pitcher showdown is the essence of baseball, sometimes pitting the game’s best against one another in a showdown. Mano y mano.
Saturday night, the game was decided on two matchups between a combined three All-Stars, and a second year player in his 20th career start. In both instances, Michael won.
Following 4 ½ scoreless innings, another All-Star, Francisco Lindor, singled off of Tigers starter Justin Verlander to bring Michael Brantley to the dish.
First, the tale of the tape: Verlander has faced Brantley 73 times, most of any hitter on the Indians, with balanced success on each side. The Indians outfielder splitting .288/.325/.329 with 21 hits, including a double and a triple.
The left fielder said the heavy dose of at-bats do not tilt the scale one way in the battle.
“It’s a battle every time,” he said. “There’s so much video and there’s so much tape to go back years and years. You really try to simplify it and get a pitch out over the plate, don’t try to do too much, stay up the middle and don’t get caught in any tendencies.”
Brantley came into the at-bat 0-for-2 on the night, before working a full count. The left-hander battled, fouling off three pitches before doubling into the gap. With a full count, Lindor scored easily, off on Verlander’s first movement.
The former Cy Young winner pounded the corners all day with his fastball, and did it again with Brantley, while sprinkling in plenty of breaking balls low and in. The last pitch was a curve that allowed Brantley to extend his hands.
“He’s a great pitcher,” Brantley said. “He was staying on the corners, staying off the middle the plate and mixing it up. I was lucky to get a breaking ball out over the plate and put a good swing on it.”
It was the only run of the game until the Tribe tacked on three more in the 8th of off Detroit’s much maligned bullpen. By then, the “other Mike” had made his mark.
Mike Clevinger carried a brilliant five innings of work into the now 1-0 game in the 6th inning, but was in the waning moments of his outing, sitting at 94 pitches. With two outs, future hall of famer Miguel Cabrera stepped into the box with a runner on first and a chance to tie or take the lead.
With Andrew Miller warm and ready to enter, acting Manager Brad Mills stayed with the man who lead the team to that point.
Cabrera had gone quietly in his two previous at-bats against the right-hander, flying out and grounding out on two total pitches. The third attempt was not much different, as Clevinger hammered a fastball away and induced a swing on a curveball out of the zone.
The ball was chopped back at Clevinger, ricocheting off of his calf, allowing for the pitcher to recover and end the inning. The Tigers would not threaten again.
“He had handled him so far in the game pretty well,” Mills said of staying with Clevinger. “I think he was excited obviously to get that out, as the last out of the sixth inning and get him. That was huge. No doubt.”
Clevinger relished the opportunity to face Cabrera, saying that the confidence Mills had in him will give him more going forward, but added that he had to stay focused in the moment.
“Miggy coming to the plate at any time, you’ve got to keep your emotions even-keeled so you don’t get too up or too nitpicky with him,” he said. “I think more so, we got that big run, and I wanted to do anything I could to keep that guy out on the field.”
The young righty had already been engaged in a duel of sorts, seeing a pitcher he had idolized growing up on the opposite side. Clevinger said that he enjoys pitcher’s duels and the ability to counter the opposition’s success with your own, but on this night, the stakes were higher.
“It’s a little surreal,” he said of Verlander. “Especially when he made his mark and won the Cy Young, I think I was 16. I think any right-handed pitcher, especially the second he got on the scene, he had the 100 mph fastball with the power curveball. Everyone looked up to wanting to do that and wanting to be him.
“It was surreal to get to face him two starts in a row. It gives you a little extra edge because you grew up watching the guy and trying to emulate the pitches he has.”