CLEVELAND (AP)—Once top cats in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers were tamed, declawed and chased away with a broom.
The Cleveland Indians simply wouldn’t let them hang around.
Not this year.
“They’re going to be Central Division champions, obviously,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland conceded Wednesday after the Indians completed a three-game sweep with a 4-2 win. “They did what a championship team does.”
C.C. Sabathia (18-7) upgraded his Cy Young Award resume and the Indians, a fourth-place finisher in 2006, dropped their magic number to three for clinching their first title since 2001.
When Cleveland was in the midst of its worst stretch of the season last month, Sabathia boldly predicted the Indians would win the division. It appears the big lefty was right.
“I just felt it,” Sabathia said. “I knew this was coming. I had no regrets saying that at all. Here we are.”
By winning three straight over the Tigers, Cleveland opened a season-high 7 1/2 -game lead over the defending AL champs, who led in every game of the series but couldn’t put the Indians away.
This was not the sweep Detroit had in mind. The Tigers fell 5 1/2 games back in the wild-card race behind the New York Yankees.
Unless something strange happens in the next 10 days, the Tigers will spend October and the months ahead wondering what went wrong. A few of them, however, are holding out hope.
“Until we’re mathematically eliminated, we’re not finished,” third baseman Brandon Inge said. “This game is so quirky. I’m not quitting.”
Rafael Betancourt, an emerging star in Cleveland’s bullpen, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, and closer Joe Borowski pitched the ninth for his league-leading 42nd save—and biggest one to date.
After a rare 1-2-3 ninth, Borowski, who knows all about heartbreak after pitching for the Chicago Cubs in 2003 (see Steve Bartman), was asked to assess how the Tigers might feel after such a sweep.
“It’s crushing,” he said. “You go out there and it’s a do-or-die series. Psychologically it takes a toll.”
Sabathia, who went 17-5 as a rookie in ’01, set a career-high for wins by allowing two runs and five hits in seven innings. The 27-year-old gave up both runs in the third, but settled down and retired 12 of the last 13.
Sabathia’s case to become Cleveland’s first Cy Young Award winner since Gaylord Perry in 1972, is a strong one. He leads the majors in innings and is ranked at the top—or near it—in virtually every category among AL pitchers.
But his 99th career win put the Indians at the brink of playing meaningful games in October, something the 6-foot-7 Sabathia has often said is much more important to him than winning individual awards.
“I don’t care about the Cy Young or anything other than winning, I swear,” he said. “I just want to win, man. I’d much rather win a World Series.”
Just as they did in the first two games, the Indians fell behind before rallying.
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth, Cleveland scored three runs off Robertson, who gave up four runs in seven innings.
With one out, Blake walked and stole second. Franklin Gutierrez followed with an RBI double and scored when Jason Michaels doubled. Robertson hit Grady Sizemore with a pitch and rookie Asdrubal Cabrera, arguably Cleveland’s second-half MVP, hit a single to make it 4-2.
A few innings and some anxious moments later, the Indians had a completed a definitive sweep.
“Feels good,” Sabathia said. “We knew what we wanted to do, go out, put this thing to rest and bury them.”
The Tigers outhit the Indians in all three games, but what troubled Leyland most was his team’s inability to extend leads or protect them.
“It was the kiss of death,” he said. “We had our chance. We met them head on and they kicked our butt. They did everything better this series. They managed better. They pitched better. They hit better.”
The Tigers’ final chance came in the eighth when they loaded the bases on a walk and two singles. But Betancourt got Marcus Thames to fly to left with two outs. Thames had been 4-for-4 with two grand slams and 13 RBIs this season with the bases full.
“You don’t want to admit it, but how can you say we weren’t outplayed?” Inge said. “Sometimes you have to swallow your pride. I don’t ever want to lose, but every situation that came up, they got it done. They just beat us.”
Cleveland went 12-6 vs. Detroit, sweeping a pair of three-game series. … The Indians reached 90 wins for the 17th time. … In a season of surprises for Cleveland, a strange scenario looms if the Indians don’t clinch at home this weekend. On Tuesday, the Indians will play a doubleheader in Seattle with the opener a makeup from April when the Mariners four-game series at Jacobs Field was snowed out. The Indians will be the home team in Game 1, and could potentially win the AL Central—2,000 miles from their home. Earlier this season, the Indians moved a three-game series to Milwaukee because of bad weather.