CLEVELAND — The Indians had all the ingredients for a big win in a big game Monday afternoon, with a packed house at Progressive Field, their heralded right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound and center fielder Grady Sizemore off the disabled list and in the lineup.
Instead, they laid a big egg and took a big loss.
With 39,824 in attendance for the opener of a three-game series against the first-place Tigers, the lifeless Indians did little to energize the crowd, limping to a 4-2 loss.
The loss left Cleveland 7 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the Central Division standings with 24 games to play — the final three at Detroit’s Comerica Park.
“We’ve got enough games left but this is the only opportunity for us to really shave the lead,” said Cleveland manager Manny Acta, whose club is 6-7 against Detroit this season, losing the last five head-to-head matchups. “This is the opportunity we have. Who knows how far we’re going to be back at the end of the season.”
The loss was a tough one that was made tougher to take by former Indian Victor Martinez providing the heroics for the Tigers. Martinez’s three-run home run off Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez in the fourth inning proved to be the game-winning hit.
One bad inning — really, one bad pitch to Martinez — spelled doom for Jimenez, whose outing began gloriously, with five strikeouts over the first seven batters.
Jimenez was sailing along, allowing just one baserunner before Delmon Young’s one-out single in the fourth.
A walk to cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera followed before Martinez hammered a 2-2 fastball from Jimenez over the wall in right field for a 3-0 Detroit lead.
“I lost it a little bit,” Jimenez said of his fourth-inning effort.
He quickly found it again, retiring the last eight batters he faced after hitting Ramon Santiago with a pitch to start the fifth inning. Jimenez wound up allowing the three runs on two hits, while striking out eight over seven innings.
It was the first loss in four starts at home for Jimenez, who is 2-2 with a 5.27 ERA in seven starts since being acquired in a trade with the Rockies.
“I’m not going to sit here and complain about seven innings and two hits,” Acta said. “It’s a team effort and we need to score some runs to win.”
That was a tall order for the Indians against Detroit starter Doug Fister, who outpitched Jimenez, with Cleveland’s sagging lineup giving him an advantage.
Fister lasted an inning longer than Jimenez, allowing just an earned run on four hits and striking out a career-high 13 batters.
Acta gave credit to Fister, who allowed Cleveland’s first run to score on Grady Sizemore’s groundout in the fifth, and the other on a solo homer from Kosuke Fukudome in the eighth. But he also took credit away from his hitters, who managed four total hits to Detroit’s five.
“He pounded the strike zone with four pitches,” Acta said. “I didn’t feel we were aggressive enough, with 13 strikeouts and a number of them looking (five). It was an issue for us.
“That’s been our M.O. We lead the league in strikeouts (1,079 in 138 games). That’s been a problem. It comes with the territory when you have to run inexperienced kids out there.”
Fukudome’s homer was the only hit off Fister over his final three innings of work, with the Indians failing to generate the late magic they’ve produced on a number of occasions at Progressive Field.
“He just made good pitches and didn’t give us much to hit,” said Sizemore, who was activated from the disabled list prior to the game and went 0-4 with two strikeouts against Fister.
The Indians, who were hoping for a sweep of the Tigers to trim the deficit substantially, have two more chances to gain instant ground, with Detroit leaving town Wednesday.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” Jimenez said. “There’s still a lot of baseball left.”
But time is running out on the Indians.
“Every game we play now is important,” Sizemore said. “We’re playing in September and we’re playing from behind, so you can’t afford to lose games.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.