CLEVELAND — Something was in the water Tuesday night.
Despite near insurmountable odds, the Cavaliers were able to win the NBA Draft Lottery.
Despite equally insurmountable odds, the last-place Indians were able to beat Justin Verlander and the first-place Detroit Tigers to clinch the series via a 6-2 victory at Progressive Field.
“I thought we really played a good game,” said manager Terry Francona, whose team went 4-15 against the three-time defending Central Division champions last year but have already taken three of the first four meetings this season. “We had a lot of energy. We did some really good things.”
The Indians, who took the first game of the series Monday night with a dramatic 10th-inning walk-off home run from Michael Brantley, went to work early this time around.
After a Torii Hunter solo home run in the opening inning gave Detroit the first lead, Cleveland came back and matched it off Verlander in the bottom of the first on an RBI single from Lonnie Chisenhall.
The Indians didn’t stop there, putting up four runs against the former American League MVP and Cy Young award winner in the second. The first six hitters of the inning reached base — five on hits — as Cleveland took control early.
Mike Aviles landed a substantial blow with a two-run double that was followed by an RBI double from Michael Bourn and a run-scoring single from Asdrubal Cabrera.
“We really made him work hard,” Francona said of Verlander, who allowed five earned runs on 11 hits over six innings while striking out just two. “We just kind of kept the line moving. We ran the bases well and worked him really hard.”
The run support was a welcome sight for right-hander Trevor Bauer, who was called up from Triple-A Columbus prior to the game to make his second start of the season against the stiffest of competition.
Despite allowing the homer to Hunter two batters into the game, Bauer did not crumble. He surrendered just one more run on a homer to Alex Avila to lead off the fifth, allowing the to earned runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out five over six innings.
“He did a lot of things well,” Francona said. “He competed, he pitched in, he was aggressive attacking the strike zone. He changed speeds, he used all his pitches. With men on base, he executed pitches.
“That’s not the easiest assignment to come up from Triple-A to face them. I thought he really did a great job. I think he’s starting to understand that when he pitches ahead, it doesn’t matter what pitches he uses. His stuff is good and hitters have to respect all his pitches.”
Though he was facing one of the majors’ top offensive teams, Bauer said he didn’t alter his game plan.
“Obviously, they swing the bat very well, but it’s the same approach,” Bauer said. “It was nice to give the team a chance to win. It was a big win.”
The approach may be the same, but the results have been much different for Bauer this season. He battled mechanics and confidence for much of 2013 — his first year in Cleveland’s organization.
“Last year he had to work through some frustrations, and he has,” Francona said. “Now we’re starting to see a young pitcher develop to where we think he can help our rotation be a winning rotation. That’s really exciting.”
“Performing well is always pleasing, especially when the team gets the win and you can help contribute to it,” Bauer said. “I think that was the most frustrating thing for me about last year is that I’d go out there and I didn’t feel like I was contributing to helping the team win, so it’s nice to be able to do that this year.”
Though the crowd was far from a sellout (13,924), it was a boisterous one that created a playoff atmosphere for a significant meeting with the Central Division heavyweight.
“A little bit,” said Cody Allen, when asked if games against Detroit have a different feel. “They’re always just big games. They’re our division rival. They’re going to be there at the end. They always are, so we need to win these games.”