Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Detroit Rocked

Is there anyone on this Cleveland squad who hasn't hit a walk-off homer yet? Casey Blake was the latest hero in a tight game in Detroit Tuesday night, launching one in the 11th inning to put his team ahead for good. Ben Francisco gets an assist with his game-tying homer in the 8th.

The Tribe got off to a good start, scoring a run in the first off aggressive baserunning from Sizemore. Grady bunted the first pitch of the game down the firstbase line for a single. Blake would single and a hustling Sizemore would dive headfirst into third. Peralta wrapped up the scoring sequence with a sac fly. The Tribe's offense pieced together just enough hits to keep it close against a locked-in Mike Maroth. Two of Cleveland's four regular inning runs came on sacrafice flies.

The Tribe had a difficult time keeping up with Maroth's adjustments. Maroth started out with a by attacking the inside part of the plate. Once the Indians caught on and started pulling the ball more, Maroth fought back with a mix of breaking and off-speed pitches. Maroth caught multiple batters staring at a ball down the middle because he fooled them so badly. Even though he would finish with 8 K's, Maroth would surrender 6 hits and 3 BB over just 5 IP.

They may have been fooled a lot, but the Tribe did a great job of making Robertson work (108 pitches). Taking advantage of the weakest starter they will face and making the bullpen work overtime was crucial in this first game. This will be especially helpful later on since the Tigers' bullpen is already depleted with Zumaya and Rodney on the DL.

On the Cobra

The Cobra officially broke out of his earlier funk, drawing on his experience and precise control to keep the Tigers in check. Byrd got into a couple jams, but found a way to control the damage. He gave up two runs on a few hits early in the 2nd inning, but didn't panic. Instead, he mowed down the bottom of the Detroit lineup after giving it up to the top half.

Byrd faced another looming disaster in the 5th, loading the bases on a Magglio Ordonez walk with two outs. Facing Carlos Guillen, who has a .407 avg. with the bases juiced, Byrd gave up a bloop single. Michaels and Shoppach bailed out their pitcher and combined for a great play
to nail the clunky Sheffield at home. Shoppach did a nice job of blocking the plate and forcing Sheffield into a difficult slide. That was the last run a Cleveland pitcher would give up in 11 innings.

A tight game like this is a good example of why veteran pitchers are vital to a staff; they share their experience with the younger pitchers and mentor them on how to get out of jams and approach different batters and scenarios. As much as the pitching coach works with the young pitchers, it's good to hear advice or encouragement from a teammate who's been there. It gives the young guys confidence to watch the vet keep the team in the game and not give up the big inning.

The Cobra maintained his focus and needed only 104 pitches, 68 for strikes, over 7 innings. You know when Byrd can pound the strike zone like that and still top out at only 88 mph with his fastball that his location and pitch movement are solid. Since his start in Atlanta, Byrd has posted three straight quality starts with Cleveland winning all three.

On the Pen

With all the game winning homers flying around lately, it feels like the Tribe bullpen is getting overlooked at times. Betancourt, Mastny, and Borowski combined to pitch 4 innings, holding the Tigers to an outstanding 2 hits, 1 walk, and no runs. They walked a tightrope, but shut down a tough Tigers offense in front of a raucous crowd.

Apparently Betancourt is the slowest pitcher in the league, forcing the umps to enforce a rule I've never even heard of. If a pitcher doesn't throw the ball 20 seconds after the batter steps into the box, he is charged with a ball. I was wondering what the second base ump was doing with a stopwatch until he raises his hand and calls this obscure rule on Raffy (happened twice actually). I've never seen Wedge so livid over a call, but he must have kept the profanity to a minimum because he didn't get tossed. Seriously though, you don't need to touch your cap three times before you throw it Raffy.

This was an intense game, showing a playoff atmosphere in July. It could have gone either way, with near misses on homers by Ordonez and Granderson late in the game. There is a definite rivarly between these two teams and the fans can sense the urgency of their meetings this season. Cleveland has taken 6 of 8 from the Tigers this year.


I usually watch the games on MLB TV, so I get the away announcers, as well. The Detroit team was actually one of the better ones I've heard, but they had a few fun quotes during the game:

*Following the Francisco game-tying tater:

"You gotta be kiddin' me." (twice)

*Detroit has the bases loaded with one out in the tenth:

Announcer #1: "You know they're gonna win this game right?"
Announcer #2: "Well they have to now."

Happy Independence Day Everyone!

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