DETROIT — Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians passed their first test against the defending American League champions.
They beat Justin Verlander on Saturday night and rallied against Jose Valverde on Sunday. When it was over, Cleveland had taken two of three from the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Pinch hitter Mark Reynolds had a tiebreaking single in the 10th inning to give the Indians a 4-3 victory in the series finale. Cleveland tied the game with a run off Valverde in the ninth.
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“That was as good a team effort as you are ever going to see,” said Francona. “We left some guys on base early, and that’s tough against any team, much less that one. But we kept playing and we got it in the end.”
Cleveland tied it in the ninth when Michael Brantley hit a two-out RBI single off Valverde. Joe Smith (1-0) pitched the bottom of the inning, and the Indians took the lead in the 10th.
With men on first and third and one out in the 10th, Michael Bourn hit a slow grounder to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who threw home in time to get Asdrubal Cabrera. Reynolds followed with a single to left off Darin Downs (0-1) that slipped past third baseman Miguel Cabrera’s diving attempt.
“With two strikes, I’m just trying to shorten up my swing and get something into play,” Reynolds said. “He threw me a change-up, and I was able to get it on the ground and past Cabrera. That felt good.”
The game wasn’t over yet, though. Cleveland closer Chris Perez, who retired Miguel Cabrera with the potential winning run on base Saturday night, wasn’t available, so Rich Hill got the first two outs of the Detroit 10th, and Cody Allen finished for his first career save.
“He had a taxing outing 12 hours ago, so I told him I wanted him to be honest with me when he started to warm up,” Francona said of Perez. “To his credit, he did just that, so I told him we’d find another way to win the game.”
The Indians have won 15 of 20, and Sunday’s win brought them even with the Tigers atop the AL Central.
Cleveland has not lost any of its last seven series.
The Tigers were prepared to let Valverde leave via free agency in the offseason, but they ended up bringing him back on a minor league deal. He was back in Detroit as the closer by the end of April, and he hadn’t allowed a run in five appearances before Sunday.
But he walked two in the ninth before Brantley’s tying single.
“You have to respect the hitter, too,” Valverde said. “You have to remember, this guy is a big leaguer, too.”
Detroit threatened in the bottom of the ninth when Andy Dirks led off with a single, but Torii Hunter couldn’t get a bunt down and ended up hitting into a 1-6-3 double play — Asdrubal Cabrera had to spin awkwardly near second because of Smith’s slightly inaccurate throw, but he made the turn successfully.
“That’s just a fantastic, athletic play,” Francona said. “The throw was tailing away from him, but he caught it, managed to keep his foot on the bag and then throws Torii out with nothing but arm strength.”
That meant Miguel Cabrera had to hit with the bases empty, and his flyout sent the game to extra innings.
Asdrubal Cabrera doubled leading off the 10th and went to third on Nick Swisher’s tapper to the pitcher. After Carlos Santana was intentionally walked, the Tigers got a big out when Asdrubal Cabrera was thrown out at home.
But Reynolds came through for the Indians, driving home Santana from second.
Brayan Pena homered for the Tigers, and Detroit starter Rick Porcello allowed two runs and four hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked two.
Zach McAllister allowed two earned runs and eight hits in six innings for the Indians.
Pena’s two-run homer in the second opened the scoring. The Indians tied it the following inning on a two-run double by Jason Kipnis.
Detroit scored an unearned run in the fourth after Cleveland third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall threw wildly to first on Peralta’s grounder for a two-base error. Pena’s grounder up the middle hit second base for an infield single, and Omar Infante drove in Peralta with a sacrifice fly.