Shelton's homer holds up

Shelton's homer holds up

DETROIT -- The last thing Mike Maroth wants to be is a question mark. On Sunday, he was an exclamation point.

He has no idea how his ailing elbow will feel when he comes to the clubhouse Monday, but he didn't want to worry about that. A 1-0 win makes everybody feel better.

"Once it's game time, you're going to go with everything you've got," Maroth said. "You'll find out really how you feel there. And I felt fine."

Instead, he left the Indians feeling uncomfortable. While Maroth tossed seven scoreless innings on a day the Tigers needed it, Cleveland watched Cliff Lee's 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball go for naught.

The difference came down to the new face of the Tigers. Not only did Chris Shelton become the fastest American Leaguer ever to reach eight homers in a season (according to Elias Sports Bureau), he was the only player at Comerica Park to cross home plate according to the scoreboard.

With all the attention, a few records, an AL Player of the Week Award and a couple of two-homer games, this homer meant more.

"This is a huge home run," Shelton said. "It ended up being the one run that we needed. Mike pitched a great game. Unfortunately we didn't get him any more runs. Obviously, we got him enough. We did enough today. Anytime a home run helps to win, that's the biggest thing."

From Shelton to Joel Zumaya, who mixed his 99 mph fastball with his nasty curveball to strand two runners in the eighth, several Tigers wanted to win this one for Maroth (2-0). He has been reliable for nearly every turn in the rotation since the summer of 2002, from his 21-loss season of 2003 to his first .500 season last year. He earned Detroit's last 1-0 win last August 14 with 8 2/3 scoreless innings.

When he described the irritation in his elbow earlier this week, he talked about reliability, wanting to be someone to be counted upon. Last Tuesday's off-day allowed the Tigers to push him back three days without starting anyone on short rest or giving anyone else a spot start. No matter how unsure Maroth was about his elbow, he had no doubt he was starting Sunday.

He had no idea he'd pitch this well, of course. But once he felt fine in the bullpen, he knew his health wouldn't be an excuse.

"Once I realized I was fine out there, it was like any other day pitching," he said. "It's good I didn't have to think about it."

Two of Cleveland's first three hitters reached safely on Maroth. Once he induced a double-play ground ball from Travis Hafner, he allowed just three baserunners the rest of the day. He struck out four of six batters in the second and third innings, including back-to-back fastballs past Kelly Shoppach and Grady Sizemore following Casey Blake's leadoff single in the third.

Not only did Hafner go homerless, dropping behind Shelton and Albert Pujols for the Major League home run lead, he went hitless for just the fourth time in 12 games this season. Maroth survived a 2-0 count against him in the fourth to induce a flyout to center in the fourth, then led off the seventh with a groundout to first.

Nearly all the while, Maroth didn't think about the elbow. "Towards the end, it got a little tender," Maroth said, "but nothing that really concerned me. It could've just been the pitch count, too. But no problems."

The only concern was the Indians lineup in a game in which Maroth had no room for damage. Lee (1-1) allowed just three hits through his first seven innings, but the one extra-base hit he yielded was what cost him.

Shelton won their first meeting Sunday, reaching for a pitch at his knees and lining it into center field for a single. When Shelton came back up, Lee tried to pitch him low again, but his cutter came back over the plate.

"He didn't quite get it in as well as the first one," Shelton said. "I just put a good swing on it. I can't really tell you why it went out of the ballpark, but it did."

After eight home runs, he still doesn't have an explanation for it. "I didn't plan on going up there and hitting a home run," he said. "I just wanted to go up there and hit the ball hard. That's all you can ask for."

The pitch was almost all Lee was asking for, too. "It wasn't that bad of a pitch," he said. "But he's on fire."

Lee retired 11 of the next 12 batters he faced before leaving after two eighth-inning singles. He actually outlasted Maroth, who was pulled at the 100-pitch mark after seven innings for Zumaya.

"The thinking with me was I didn't want to lose this game for Maroth," Zumaya said. "Maroth pitched his rear end off."

After a single and a four-pitch walk put the potential tying run in scoring position with the top of the order coming up, so did Zumaya. He retired Sizemore on a called third strike, following a 97 mph fastball with a curveball that caught the outside corner. He then went to his fastball against Jason Michaels, who saw four straight pitches at 98 mph or better before fanning on a 99 mph heater.

"It's really the first time we've seen him in that type of situation," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.

By contrast, they've seen plenty of Maroth, who improved to 7-3 lifetime against Cleveland. Wedge said his team needs to make adjustments against Maroth, but even his longtime teammates learn more about him in outings like this.

"This one right here showed me he has some guts," Brandon Inge said. "He impressed me more in this start than he has in a long, long time."

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