Tigers cruise in finale in Cleveland
Sheffield homers as Bonderman helps Detroit earn split
CLEVELAND -- Two days ago, it was looking like a weekend of bad breaks by the lake. Instead, the Tigers left town the same way they came in.
"We got our gut tested pretty good come Friday night," manager Jim Leyland said after Sunday's 9-2 win salvaged a series split against the Indians at Jacobs Field. "We came back to win the next two games in a row against a team that only lost four games at home all year [before this]. I'm pretty impressed with our team. I like our team a lot."
Leyland emphasized that point when he told his players he was proud of them. The players, for their part, look at it as business as usual.
Around this time a year ago, the Tigers endured a stretch of nine losses in 12 games, topped by allowing an eight-run eighth inning against the Blue Jays. Detroit came back to take the next two in Toronto, starting them on a stretch of 17 wins in 19 games to end June.
It was around that time, during the losing, that Leyland told his players that he didn't want to see heads hanging after a loss. Professionalism, he emphasized at the time, was about taking a loss in stride, coming back the next day and competing.
He doesn't have to say it now because they already know.
"We just don't panic, man," left fielder Craig Monroe said. "You're going to go through some stretches like that. You're going to go through it when things don't work out. When you have confidence in your teammates and in what we're trying to accomplish here, you kind of have short-term memory. You have to. You get ready and battle every day. You'll see, over the course of the season, that's what guys will do."
That said, they knew the importance.
"Splitting this series was huge because of the way they started out," said Brandon Inge, who missed the series with a fractured left big toe. "They had us on the ropes there from the beginning. For us to be able to pull two out, I'm very happy."
After Tigers pitchers gave up 23 runs through the first two games of the series, including a five-run ninth inning in Friday's heartbreaking comeback loss, they held Cleveland to seven runs over the final two games. Victor Martinez's two-run homer in Sunday's first inning, his fourth homer of the series, comprised the only runs Detroit allowed over the final 12 innings of the weekend set.
Considering Bonderman's struggles in the opening inning this season, the home run was far from a stunning blow. The question was how he would rebound. He did so with five hitless innings, retiring 16 of the next 19 batters he faced -- including 11 in a row -- before back-to-back singles with one out in the seventh. The three baserunners he allowed in the span reached on two walks and an error.
"He did a really good job shutting down a really good lineup," Leyland said.
Bonderman (5-0), who didn't receive much run support for most of April, earned his fifth win in as many starts. He has scattered three earned runs on 12 hits over 21 innings in his last three outings.
|"When you have confidence in your teammates and in what we're trying to accomplish here, you kind of have short-term memory. You have to. You get ready and battle every day. You'll see, over the course of the season, that's what guys will do."|
|-- Craig Monroe|
Meanwhile, the Tigers followed up Gary Sheffield's two-run homer in the first inning by adding on a little at a time while knocking around Indians left-hander Jeremy Sowers.
Ivan Rodriguez followed up his four-hit game Saturday by singling and scoring in both the second and fourth innings, the latter on a Monroe double, before Curtis Granderson's RBI single -- just his fifth hit in 41 at-bats against left-handed pitchers this season -- plated Monroe to open a 5-1 lead.
"You've got to come back," said Rodriguez. "When you lose tough games like that, you've got to put it behind and come back the next day ready to go."
Sowers (1-6), who held Detroit to two runs over six innings in their previous meeting last Aug. 25, departed after four innings before Marcus Thames' two-run double off Tom Mastny in the fifth furthered the Tigers' lead.
Not only did Bonderman's effectiveness help the lead stick, but his efficiency saved Detroit's bullpen until late. Bonderman was the first Tigers starter to work into the seventh inning since his previous start, last Tuesday at Tampa Bay.
Instead of having to go to the bullpen early on, Leyland could choose lefty Wilfredo Ledezma against Grady Sizemore in a 7-2 game. The two battled for 12 pitches, including six two-strike foul balls, before Sizemore drew a walk to load the bases for right-handed-hitting Jhonny Peralta.
Leyland stuck with Ledezma, who regrouped to put Peralta in a two-strike count before the resurgent shortstop went after a changeup and flew out to left.
"I always focus," Ledezma said. "I know I need to get that out. I concentrate pitch by pitch."
It was the kind of regrouping that symbolized the Tigers' weekend.
"That's your job," Inge said. "We're basically programmed to play hard. If it doesn't go your way, you've got to put it behind you, or else you're not doing your job right. I just think you should have that attitude no matter what."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.