"Anytime you lose games late -- certainly, we've had our share -- they're tough to handle," said hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who managed the game in place of the suspended Jim Leyland.
Sheffield and Carmona exchanged words, then wrestled on the first-base side of the mound with one out in the seventh inning after Carmona hit Sheffield with a pitch. Sheffield walked slowly to first base while still holding his bat before finally giving it to the bat boy, who had followed him down the line. After Carmona threw over to first base, Sheffield waved for Carmona to throw to the plate. The two exchanged words, then charged at each other as both benches and bullpens cleared.
By then, however, Cabrera had inflicted his damage on Carmona's pitching line. Two batters before Sheffield's hit-by-pitch, Cabrera took a Carmona pitch on an estimated 424-foot line to straightaway center field before the trees finally stopped its path. The impact on the game was just as swift, scoring Magglio Ordonez and pulling the Tigers ahead, 4-2.
Combined with Cabrera's two-run homer in the fourth, the twin shots pulled Cabrera into a tie for the American League lead with injured White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin with 36. Eight of those have come off of Cleveland pitching, though these were the first against Carmona.
"He had a great night against a real tough pitcher," McClendon said.
Once Ramon Santiago tripled and scored on a Dusty Ryan sacrifice fly in the eighth, the Tigers took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the inning for Armando Galarraga, whose damage to that point consisted of solo homers from Choo and Grady Sizemore. The wildness that had marked some of his previous outings was gone, with no walks and five strikeouts.
"Gally threw a heck of a game for us," McClendon said. "[He] kept the ball down extremely well. You could see he was working to keep the ball down in the zone."
Back out for the eighth, Galarraga retired the first two batters of the inning before Sizemore lofted a line-drive double inside the left-field line to extend the inning and bring the potential tying run to the plate.
With Galarraga at 110 pitches and a left-handed hitter coming up in David Dellucci, McClendon made the move to lefty Casey Fossum. Galarraga made what seemed like a joking gesture to try to stay in the game, but to no avail.
The Indians answered Fossum's entrance with pinch-hitter Ben Francisco, who drew a four-pitch walk. That brought up Choo, who sent a 1-0 pitch 425 feet to right-center to tie the game.
After Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez (4-3) sent down the middle of the Tigers lineup in order in the ninth, Freddy Dolsi (1-5) put the eventual winning run on base when he hit Kelly Shoppach to lead off the bottom of the inning. Bobby Seay entered to strike out Travis Hafner, but Ryan Garko's single off Gary Glover sent pinch-runner Barfield to third with one out.
Carroll drove the first pitch he saw from Glover deep to right. The ball one-hopped the fence as Barfield trotted home. After all the big flies and the seventh-inning big tempers, that was the difference.
Whether they won or lost the fracas was irrelevant. They lost the game.
"That certainly was the No. 1 goal for us, to try to win a ballgame," McClendon said.