June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Indians 5, Tigers 3: Tribe trips Tigers in opener

CLEVELAND — The first meeting of the season with defending Central Division champion Detroit couldn’t have worked out any better for the Indians.

Cleveland got a quality start from right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and a positive performance from its offense in a 5-3 victory over the Tigers at Progressive Field on Tuesday night.

The cherry on top was an appearance from closer Chris Perez, who bashed Indians fans over the weekend, but entered the game to a rousing ovation before earning his 14th save of the season.

“I was truly humbled,” said Perez of the reaction from the majority of the 15,049 fans in attendance. “I didn’t know what to expect, but that’s the loudest I’ve ever been cheered here. It was good to see. It could’ve gone the other way, but it didn’t and I came through. I got the save. That’s a big win for us. I’m humbled. It was great.”

“The majority of our fans are positive and supportive of this ballclub,” manager Manny Acta said.

Perez, who has converted 14 consecutive save opportunities since blowing his first chance Opening Day, had to earn his latest one.

After retiring the first batter he faced, the right-hander walked leadoff hitter Ramon Santiago, then allowed a single to Andy Dirks. That brought the dangerous three-four combination of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to the plate with the game on the line.

Perez struck out Cabrera looking before getting Fielder to ground to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera for the final out.

“I really didn’t want to see those two big guys, but they ended up up there and he retired them,” said Acta, whose team snapped a 10-game losing streak to Detroit that dated back to last season, upping their division lead 3 1/2 games over second-place Chicago and four over the third-place Tigers.

“I don’t think I’ve thrown Santiago a strike my whole career,” Perez said. “As soon as he stepped up, I knew it was a walk.

“That’s why we play the game. I like to face those guys. I told you guys on Sunday I wanted a one-run game with Fielder and Cabrera coming up. They were the winning runs, so I got what I wanted. Luckily, I made some pitches and got out of it.”

Jimenez (5-3, 5.02 ERA) was far from dominant, allowing three runs and walking six over six innings, but after surrendering all of his runs in the second inning on an Alex Avila home run, the right-hander persevered to get his fifth win of the season.

“Ubaldo did a very good job making the adjustment,” Acta said. “He had one bad inning when they were very aggressive. He pitched well. He’s put a couple good outings together and we’re happy about that.”

Cleveland scored single runs in the first and third innings before tying the game at three off Detroit starter Rick Porcello on a sacrifice fly from Travis Hafner in the fifth. Hafner drove in another run with a two-out single in the third.

The Indians took the lead for good with consecutive hits off Porcello in the sixth — a single from Casey Kotchman and a double from Jose Lopez. Kotchman, who has struggled at the plate for the majority of the season, has his average up to

.225 after a 3-for-4 performance that included a double.

The Indians were in a similar position last year, leading the division before Detroit tracked them down just before the All-Star break and lengthened their division lead down the stretch.

“There’s a lot of games left still,” Acta said. “Last year at this point, I felt like we couldn’t play any better. I still don’t think we’ve played our best baseball (this year).”

Vinnie Pestano set a new club record with a strikeout to end a 1-2-3 eighth inning for the right-hander. It was Pestano’s 22nd straight appearance with at least one strikeout, breaking the mark set by Paul Shuey from 1999-2000.

Hafner’s two RBIs gave him 10 in May, joining Cabrera (13), Jason Kipnis (12), Carlos Santana (12) and Kotchman (11) to record double-digit RBI total during the month.


Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.