Tigers lose ground to Indians in extras
Capellan debuts by surrendering game-winning homer in 11th
DETROIT -- The Indians went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base, including two in the ninth. Tigers relievers allowed them just two base hits over the final 4 2/3 innings and struck out five of the final 10 batters.
Those hits were the game-tying and go-ahead solo homers. That's how the season is going for the Indians. For that matter, that's how it seems to be going for the Tigers bullpen.
"There's no doubt about it, they're pretty hot right now," Bobby Seay said of the Indians after Casey Blake's 11th-inning shot handed Detroit another loss to Cleveland at Comerica Park, this one a 5-4 decision. "They're doing the little things. They're coming back late in ballgames and getting big wins.
"I think for us, I think we need to come out and establish that we can play with these guys, which we can. It's two great ballclubs, it really is."
One of them now has a three-game lead in the division, and it's not Detroit. And while the Tigers' struggles down the stretch last year showed no series before the All-Star break can decide a playoff race, it can set a tone for the rest the summer.
The fact that the Indians have won four times in as many tries at Comerica Park already has established a plot line.
"It's a team game," Seay said. "We win as a team. We lose as a team. There's nothing we can do about this. I'm sure we'll dwell on it tonight, but tomorrow's a new day. We've got to come out and get a win. We've got to come out and establish that we're not going to let these guys walk all over us. We've got to come out with some fire.
"If we lose, we lose, but I think we definitely need to come out and establish that we're the defending AL champions."
For a while Tuesday, they looked like the championship team, and Cleveland the challenger. Nate Robertson struggled with his stuff in the first few innings but gathered himself to give the Tigers five innings, setting a personal season high with eight strikeouts.
Gary Sheffield's third-inning solo homer and Carlos Guillen's fifth-inning RBI single erased Cleveland's early advantage and gave Detroit a 3-2 lead, though Kelly Shoppach's block of the plate against Gary Sheffield prevented another run and ended the rally. It loomed as a bigger out once the Tigers went hitless until the 10th.
Two scoreless innings of relief from Zach Miner kept Robertson in line for what would've been his first win since May 19 against the Cardinals. Once pinch-hitter Ben Francisco took Durbin's first pitch deep to left with one out in the eighth, Durbin became the eighth Tigers reliever with a blown save this season.
It was Francisco's second game-changing homer in four days. He had a walkoff blast Friday night against Tampa Bay.
"Their system's pretty solid, so they won't bring up a guy who can't hit," Durbin said. "Obviously they felt like he could do a good job and he ran into one."
Once Grady Sizemore drew a four-pitch walk leading off the ninth and Blake sacrificed him over to second, the Indians seemed to set to win without extra innings. That's when Detroit's beleaguered bullpen turned in some of its bigger outs so far this summer.
Durbin recovered to retire Jhonny Peralta looking at a high sinker that dropped over the plate for a called third strike. With first base open, Leyland opted to intentionally walk All-Star Victor Martinez and bring in Seay for slugger Travis Hafner.
Seay put Hafner in a 1-2 count before sending him down swinging at an offspeed pitch. That started a stretch of four strikeouts in five-batter span, three of them by Jose Capellan in his Tigers debut.
With one swing in the 10th, it could've been a victorious one.
"We certainly had our opportunities," Leyland said. "We didn't do it."
After Curtis Granderson's leadoff line drive took Franklin Gutierrez to the right-field wall before the ball ran into his glove, back-to-back singles from Placido Polanco and Sheffield put the would-be winning run in scoring position. Tom Mastny's 0-1 pitch to Magglio Ordonez bounced in the dirt and past Martinez, moving the runners to second and third for a sac fly opportunity.
Mastny (6-2) intentionally walked Ordonez and took his chances with Guillen. Much like Leyland's choice an inning earlier, and the risk paid off. He jammed Guillen into a popup to third, then battled Ivan Rodriguez for three straight foul balls on 2-2 pitches before corralling a high bouncer up the middle for an inning-ending comebacker.
"I missed a home run by three feet [earlier] and then I hit a comebacker very hard back to the pitcher," Rodriguez said. "The pitcher made a good play and there's nothing you can do."
For six out of seven batters, Capellan's Tiger debut looked as good as any Detroit reliever had pitched this summer. He hadn't allowed anything close to a base hit until hanging an offspeed pitch to Blake.
Blake, a .307 career hitter against the Tigers entering the night, wasn't going to miss. The 0-1 pitch hung enough for Blake to blast it deep to left.
No Tigers reliever has received a victory since May 5, when Jose Mesa retired the only batter he faced ahead of a Tigers comeback at Kansas City. That's how the Tigers' relief fortunes seem to be going -- or the Tigers' fortunes in general when the Indians come to town.
"It seems like we've had a lot of games like that this year with those guys," Sean Casey said. "We just weren't able to get that last run across."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.