Tigers can't catch Indians

Tigers can't catch Indians

DETROIT -- The Tigers' credentials for contending in the American League Central Division get a test Tuesday when they visit the three-time defending division champion Twins. After the three games they just played against Cleveland this weekend, though, Dmitri Young thinks their biggest challengers might have just left town.

"This is our rival right here," Young said of the Indians after Detroit's 7-6 loss Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park. "Forget the other teams. I think it's going to come down to us and them."

Yes, he meant for the AL Central. No, the Twins did not slip his mind.

Asked about Minnesota, Young shrugged and repeated, "Us and Cleveland."

Or as he put it later, "the doggone Indians."

He knows where the Twins and White Sox stand. Yet to Young, the Tigers and Indians have been building towards contention on the same timetable, and it points towards this season. While the products of the Indians youth movement are beginning to emerge into their prime years, especially on offense, the Tigers have added the veteran firepower around their developing rotation.

"Just look at the different positions," Young said. "Look at the matchups. The matchups are pretty similar."

They were similar enough that two out of the three games were decided by one run. For Sunday to be included in that category required one of the better comebacks the Tigers have enjoyed since the end of 2003, and it wasn't just from the hitting.

Jeremy Bonderman gave up six runs in the first inning, then scattered one run on two hits in his next five. The Tigers came back to put the potential tying run on first base with two outs in the ninth before Bob Wickman induced an Ivan Rodriguez groundout to end it.

The Tigers' second one-run loss in three days brought them back to .500, closing their season-opening homestand at 3-3. Yet Bonderman's recovery and the ensuing offensive surge left them feeling much better Sunday than they did after Friday's 4-3 defeat.

"It doesn't mean that when they score six runs, we're done for the day," Rodriguez said. "They have to take us to 27 outs before they can win the game. Six runs for us doesn't mean anything."

Rodriguez and others made essentially that same point after their nightmarish opening inning. Cleveland sent 10 batters to the plate in the first against Tigers starter Bonderman (1-1), who needed 45 pitches to get out of it.

The 22-year-old right-hander missed the strike zone with his first five pitches and nine of the first 12 he threw. He walked two of the first three batters he faced to load the bases with no one out. Aaron Boone singled in two runs ahead of Ben Broussard's two-run double, then Casey Blake escaped an 0-2 hole to line a full-count single and drive in another run. Ronnie Belliard completed the damage with an RBI single two batters later.

Rodriguez came to the mound twice that inning to calm him down and help Bonderman correct a mechanical flaw. "He was a little too excited then," Rodriguez said. "His left side flew out a little too early before he threw the baseball. That's probably what happened to him."

Bonderman summed up that inning with the same words Royals starter Jose Lima used to describe his shelling on Opening Day: "I just [stunk]."

That description, however, didn't fit the whole day. Once Bonderman fixed his flaw, his pitches were as effective as in his victory last Monday. He retired the final eight batters he faced and didn't surrender a hit after the third. He used 59 pitches, 39 of them strikes, over his last five innings, finishing at 104 pitches over his six-inning performance, and felt like he could've gone longer.

"I felt great towards the end of the game," Bonderman said. "I think, for me, it was something that was going to happen eventually, that I was going to get hit a little bit. For me to stay out there and battle for my team and give them a chance to get back in the game was big."

It was equally impressive to his teammates. "I tip my hat to him," Rodriguez said. "He didn't give up. He just kept pitching."

The performance might have actually said more about why he's a frontline starter at his age than his strong outings. "For him to be able to put five solid innings up after that says a lot about his character, his maturity level," Mike Maroth said. "I would think at age 22, most guys wouldn't be able to find it. They think after the first inning, the game's over if they don't have it, and they pretty much talk themselves out of it."

His downfall was that the two hits he did give up came in the same inning. Broussard struck again with one out in the third, lashing a triple to the wall in the deepest part of right-center field. Two batters later, Grady Sizemore lined an RBI single to right.

Broussard improved to 7-for-23 for his career against Bonderman. All of his hits have gone for extra bases.

By then, Detroit's comeback had already started against Indians starter Jason Davis (1-0). Craig Monroe's RBI single and Marcus Thames' sacrifice fly opened the Tigers scoring in the second inning. A two-out bloop single from Rondell White plated Carlos Guillen with another run in the third. Two innings later, Young tripled in Guillen, and scored when Broussard dropped what would've been an inning-ending throw across the infield from Boone.

Davis and three relievers combined to retire 11 consecutive Tigers before Brandon Inge's two-out single in the ninth brought the potential tying run to the plate. Guillen singled in Inge with a blooper to left-center to bring up Rodriguez, but closer Bob Wickman finished it from there.

Inge's score meant the Tigers fell to 0-7 in one-run games against Cleveland since the start of last season. The way the Tigers see it, though, they'll have no shortage of close games to come against them.

"I don't like losing the series," Trammell said, "but we're going to be battling with these all year."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.