Tigers fall short late, lose 3-1 for 19th straight against Indians

Detroit – Somebody bump the turntable, this record appears stuck.

For the 19th straight time, the Tigers were beaten by the Cleveland Indians. Behind the dominating pitching of right-hander Shane Bieber, who in one stretch recorded nine straight outs by strikeout, the Indians cruised to a 3-1 win at Comerica Park Saturday night.

The 19-game skid is the second longest to one team in the division era (since 1969). 

It was the Tigers’ fourth straight loss since first baseman C.J. Cron went on the injured list Monday. It was announced before the game that he would undergo season-ending knee surgery — as if things weren’t bleak enough as the club tumbles back to .500 at 9-9.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull throws to a Cleveland Indians batter during the first inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.

It was the fifth straight game the Tigers’ starting pitcher couldn’t survive the fifth inning. In 18 games, in fact, Tigers starters have finished six innings twice – both times it was right-hander Spencer Turnbull who did the trick.

But on Saturday, he lasted only 4.2 innings. Command, and maybe a little bit home plate umpire Laz Diaz’s tight strike zone, was his issue. He walked four and three of those runners scored. With eight three-ball counts, he threw 97 pitches in less than five innings.

Still, he kept the damage to a minimum, particularly in the third inning. He walked the Nos. 8-9 hitters to start the inning — Sandy Leon, who was hitting .081 and Oscar Mercado, who was hitting .119. Cesar Hernandez followed with a bunt single to load the bases.

At that point, Indians hitters had not offered at a single first pitch from Turnbull. Jose Ramirez, though, for whatever reason, jumped a first-pitch curveball and lined it over Cameron Maybin’s head in right field plating two runs.

Shane Bieber throws against the Detroit Tigers in the first inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.

It was just the second curveball Turnbull had thrown to that point, which makes the ambush that much more remarkable and befuddling.

Turnbull was still in the soup — runners at second and third and still no outs. But he stopped the bleeding. He struck out Francisco Lindor and, after walking Carlos Santana to reload the bases, he got Franmill Reyes to hit into a 6-4-3 double-play.

It was a tedious 33-pitch inning for Turnbull, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

In the fifth, he walked Ramirez and with two outs fell behind Carlos Santana 3-1. He got strike two with a 95-mph fastball, but Santana ripped the next one, another 95-mph heater into the left-center field gap, making it 3-0 and ending Turnbull’s night.

Meanwhile, the Tigers were overmatched by Bieber. He was painting with his five-pitch mix, getting 23 swings-and-misses on 48 swings. He also got 16 called strikes. He got nine whiffs on 15 swings at his knuckle curveball.

He finished with 11 strikeouts, punching out nine of 10 batters between the second and the fifth — the streak broken up by a two-out walk in the third.

Bieber has 54 strikeouts in five games, the most of any starter over five games in club history. 

The Tigers managed three hits, though they did miss a chance to break on top. Jonathan Schoop led off the second inning with a double. Jeimer Candelario followed with a ground ball to first. Typically, that early in a game, the first baseman would take the sure out.

Not Carlos Santana. The former catcher fired a seed across the diamond and nailed Schoop at third.

Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez tags out Detroit Tigers' Jonathan Schoop (8) at third base on a ball hit by Jeimer Candelario during the second inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.

But the bullpen kept the Tigers within striking range.

Relievers John Schreiber (four straight outs) and Jose Cisnero put up zeros in the sixth and seventh. Schreiber has now worked 8.1 scoreless innings this season. Going back to Sept. 12 of last season, he hasn’t allowed a run in 13 of his last 14 outings.

Bryan Garcia put himself in a bases-loaded, no-out mess in the eighth. He walked to and made an errant throw to second base on what should have been a double-play comebacker. But he didn’t panic. He got Sandy Leon to foul out. He struck out Oscar Mercado and then center fielder Victor Reyes ran down a long fly ball to the warning track by Hernandez.

Rony Garcia then worked a clean ninth.

The Tigers did bring the tying run to the plate in the seventh and ninth innings. Cameron Maybin ended the seventh-inning rally with a 6-4-3 double-play against Bieber.

A walk and a catcher’s interference error by Leon set the Tigers up in the ninth against Indians closer Brad Hand. After Candelario flew out to left, pinch-hitter JaCoby Jones laced a two-strike double into the corner in left, making it 3-1 and moving the tying runs into scoring position.

Maybin hit the first pitch right back to Hand, who flipped to first to end the game. 

Twitter@cmccosky