The Cleveland Indians came to Detroit in first place in the AL Central. They know they’ll leave town in the top spot and look to extend that lead Thursday in the finale of a three-game set with the Tigers.
Cleveland (69-56) entered this series 1 1/2 games ahead of Detroit (68-58) in the division. The Indians bounced back from a 2-1 loss in the series opener Tuesday to even the series the next night with an 11-8 victory.
Franklin Gutierrez, inserted into the lineup in place of Trot Nixon by manager Eric Wedge for his speed, hit a three-run homer and was one of seven Indians with two hits. Cleveland, which improved to 8-6 against Detroit, managed only one hit on Tuesday.
“Now we put ourselves in a position where we can come out tomorrow and fight to win the series,” Wedge said.
The Indians overcame three homers by Detroit. Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen each connected for the second straight game, and Marcus Thames also homered for the Tigers, who had scored a total of only eight runs in their previous four games.
“We battled all the way to the end,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “It was the add-on runs that killed us.”
Ordonez is hitting .396 (21-for-53) with 14 RBIs and 15 runs in 14 games against Cleveland this year.
Detroit played without slugger Gary Sheffield, who will be out for the rest of this seven-game homestand because of a sore right shoulder that has bothered him for more than a month.
“It’s too bad to play with right now,” Sheffield said. “It’s more inflamed than it’s ever been. I’ve gotten the last cortisone (shot) I could get. Sept. 1 is just around the corner. If not, I go on the DL.”
Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook (4-7, 4.75 ERA) has partially turned around a poor season with excellent work in his last five outings. He’s 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA in that span, pitching at least seven innings four times.
The right-hander was outstanding on Saturday at Tampa Bay, yielding one run and two hits over seven innings in an 8-1 victory. The veteran has allowed just two runs and four hits over 15 innings in winning his last two road starts.
“You look at the last five starts, maybe he’s been the Jake Westbrook that we know him to be out there and even beyond that at times,” Wedge said. “Jake was outstanding again today. He’s really stringing them together right now.”
Westbrook has been ripped in his last three starts at Comerica Park, losing all of them and posting a 8.83 ERA. That includes his lone start against Detroit this year, when he gave up five runs and 10 hits over six innings in a 6-4 loss on July 4.
Nate Robertson (7-10, 5.13), meanwhile, has been awful in his last six starts for Detroit, going 1-4 with a 6.57 ERA while letting opponents bat .342. He gave up five runs and 10 hits over six innings in Friday in a 6-1 loss at the New York Yankees.
The left-hander has taken advantage of some solid run support to go 5-3 with a 4.79 ERA in 13 home starts. The Tigers have scored an average of 6.8 runs for him in those outings.
Robertson is 1-4 with a 7.55 ERA in his last six starts against Cleveland, including 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in two this year. He’s had trouble getting out Casey Blake, who is 11-for-21 (.524) against him.