Alright, so maybe the title is a slight bit of hyperbole. Maybe. The Indians took two of three from the Detroit Tigers on the strength of a 5-3 come-from-behind victory off Justin "He Actually Is Human" Verlander to knock a half game off their deficit in the Central and knock the Tigers out of first place. Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner homered to start the seventh inning rally and the Indians used four singles to push across two more runs to shock the Tigers and send a very loud crowd of nearly 35,000 home happy. Without question, this win is the biggest of the season.
Anytime Justin Verlander is the scheduled starter, you know you're in for a battle. Zach McAllister deserves all the credit in the world tonight for growing up right before our eyes. McAllister, knowing he had no margin for error, fought through 6.1 innings, giving up three runs, two earned, on nine hits. He also struck out seven Tigers on the night. Since McAllister had struggled to pick up his teammates in the past, it was a rather ominous beginning to the game. Austin Jackson hit a squibber up the third base line that Jose Lopez barehanded and threw into a different zip code when aiming for first base. The throw bounced down the right field line and Jackson went to third. McAllister buckled down and struck out Quentin Berry and Miguel Cabrera before Prince Fielder got a big two-out single to left to plate Jackson.
The Indians answered immediately, and that was big for McAllister. The inning started off extremely promising as Shin-Soo Choo hit the first pitch of the game off the center field wall for a double. After Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to second to move Choo to third, Jason Kipnis smoked a ball to the warning track in left, allowing Choo to score easily. Michael Brantley hammered a ball to center, but it hung up long enough for Jackson to run under it. Either way, it gave the Indians offense some confidence as they hit three balls right on the button off Verlander in the first.
The next six innings were what you would read about in a book titled "Pitcher's Duel". McAllister gave up a single run in the fourth when Alex Avila singled, moved to second on a sac bunt, and scored on a Jackson two-out single. Besides that, both McAllister and Verlander put up a collection of zeroes. Both McAllister and Verlander looked completely in control. McAllister was especially impressive, not backing down in the face of a very good lineup and while being overshadowed by Verlander. He really, truly grew up before our eyes tonight and proved a lot to a lot of people, himself included.
In the sixth, McAllister made his only "mistake" of the game, though it was a pretty good pitch. Delmon Young hit a leadoff home run to right field, going with the pitch and hitting it just above the wall. McAllister retired the side in order to keep the game manageable and still came back out for the seventh approaching the 100-pitch mark. Acta opted to stay with McAllister in the seventh, showing faith in his young right hander. McAllister didn't make it through the inning, but Acta deserves to be applauded for his decision.
McAllister retired Infante to start the inning, but walked Jackson and gave up a single to Berry that sent Jackson to third. With Cabrera coming to the plate, Acta went to Joe Smith. Smith gave up a game-tying home run to Cabrera on Tuesday night. He got his chance at retribution tonight. He succeeded. Cabrera bounced into a 5-4-3 double play to keep the deficit at two.
The Indians responded. And they responded in nearly unbelievable fashion. Carlos Santana walked to the plate and hit a moon shot on the first pitch he saw, standing and watching it for a minute before appearing to gaze out at Verlander. Those two have a history. Verlander felt Santana posed too long on his walk-off grand slam in April 2011. Later in the season, Verlander came up and in on Santana, buzzing him under the chin. Maybe 45 seconds after Santana touched home plate, Travis Hafner stepped in and also hit the first pitch, a towering bomb to right center field that sent Progressive Field into a frenzy. With a fist pump rounding first, Hafner had one of his most satisfying trips around the bases in quite some time. Jose Lopez followed with a base hit, Verlander clearly looking shaken. He retired the next two hitters on lazy fly balls, but the inning wasn't over by any means.
Choo kept the inning alive with a really good at bat and singled to left. Cabrera roped a single to right, scoring Lopez, and then went to second on the throw. Kipnis hit a knuckleball to short that Ramon Santiago had trouble with. It caromed off his glove to score another run. The Indians led 5-3 and the remainder of the game was set up for the Indians to take advantage.
Vinnie Pestano worked a clean eighth. Chris Perez entered for the ninth and gave up a leadoff double to Alex Avila. In all honesty, Perez was naked on the mound. He didn't have his command, his slider didn't have the same bite, and he was really fighting with himself. He toughened up to strike out Santiago. He walked Omar Infante on four pitches. Next batter, Jackson, looked to hit into a double play but was ruled safe at first on the epitome of a bang-bang play. With two runners on and Miguel Cabrera lurking on deck, Perez struck out Berry on a check swing and the Indians picked up, by far, their biggest win of the season.
Joe Smith gets the win for his two big outs, moving to 7-2. Justin Verlander gave up five runs and was saddled with his sixth loss of the season. Vinnie Pestano recorded hold #29 and Chris Perez recorded save #29. With the win, the Indians inched back over .500 at 50-49. The Indians picked up a half-game in the Central and now trail by 3.5. The Tigers fell out of first by a half-game.
Stat of the Night: Tonight was the first time in Justin Verlander's career that he gave up back-to-back home runs on back-to-back first pitches.
Player of the Game: Zach McAllister. A lot of guys did a lot of great things, but McAllister went toe-to-toe with Verlander all night long. He's been the Indians best starter since he moved into the rotation full-time and he was invaluable tonight.
Tomorrow's Game: The Indians hit the road for a 10-day road trip that begins in Minnesota on Friday night. Josh Tomlin will face off against Scott Diamond at 8:10 p.m.