DETROIT – The Cleveland Indians ran into the perfect team to give their pitching staff some confidence.
Jake Westbrook gave up a run and was backed by Russell Branyan and Shin-Soo Choo homers, lifting Cleveland to a 3-2 win over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night.
Westbrook (3-3) gave up five hits and a walk over 7 2/3 innings after giving up a combined nine runs in his two previous starts, leading to the Indians starting the day with an AL-worst 4.89 ERA.
“That’s the best game he’s pitched this year,” Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. “That’s only the third game we’ve won this season when we’ve scored three or less runs, so you see how important it was for him to go deep for us.”
Chris Perez stranded two runners in the eighth by getting Magglio Ordonez to pop up. Perez gave up three runs to the New York Yankees without getting an out in his previous outing.
Kerry Wood allowed an unearned run on Alex Avila’s RBI single after Branyan’s two-out error at first base, letting the Tigers pull within a run before earning his third straight save in four chances.
Jeremy Bonderman (2-3) didn’t allow a run until Branyan hit a solo home run in the fifth. Choo followed with a solo shot the next inning, ending an 0-for-19 slump.
“I made two bad pitches,” Bonderman said simply.
Mark Grudzielanek’s RBI single in the eighth gave Cleveland a two-run cushion it needed.
Westbrook had awful results in his previous two starts, but didn’t have any trouble with the offensively challenged Tigers until the eighth inning.
Detroit scored only one run in its previous game, a loss to the Oakland Athletics, after getting shut out by them on Saturday.
It has lost eight of 10 – scoring a combined 19 runs in those losses – since reaching a season-high seven games over .500 on May 20 and sharing the AL Central lead with the Minnesota Twins.
“As a manager, you beat yourself up a bit, but I don’t think you shake up your lineup,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “Our lineup has just been sputtering.”
The Tigers blew a chance to make the series opener with the Indians interesting in the eighth inning, then did it in the ninth before coming up short.
Westbrook hit pinch hitter Don Kelly in the eighth and shortstop Jason Donald’s throwing error allowed Ramon Santiago to get to second after his groundout set up a potential double play. Johnny Damon drew a two-out walk to end Westbrook’s night. Perez entered to face Ordonez with runners at the corners and retired him easily to keep the two run lead.
Wood got Miguel Cabrera to ground out and Brennan Boesch to strike out in the ninth. Branyan misplayed Carlos Guillen’s grounder and Wood walked Brandon Inge to bring Avila – potentially the winning run – to the plate.
Avila’s RBI single on the 10th pitch he saw pulled Detroit within a run, but Santiago’s flyout ended the game.
“Woody made some big pitches at the end and got us out of it,” Acta said.
The bright spot on a dismal night for Detroit was Bonderman, who has given up seven earned runs in six starts, after it appeared a blood clot in his shoulder might doom his career. He pitched eight innings for the first time since 2007.
“He’s been very good,” Leyland said. “It looks like he’s definitely healthy, knock on wood.”
Westbrook does, too.
The right-hander, who won 44 games for Cleveland from 2004 through 2006, is bouncing back from elbow surgery in June of 2008 that kept him off the field last season.
“I feel like I’m definitely back in terms of health, but I still want to get back to where I was two, three years ago,” Westbrook said. “I’m not expecting to be better than I was before the surgery, but I want to be that guy again. I’m getting closer.”
NOTES: Detroit dealt the LHP Dontrelle Willis and a large part of his $12 million salary to Arizona for RHP Billy Buckner, who was sent to Triple-A Toledo. … Westbrook matched a career high by hitting two batters, doing it for the second time against Detroit this season. … Seven of Branyan’s last 16 hits have been homers and each has been on the road. … The Tigers had won seven straight and 10 of 11 games at home against the Indians.