Detroit — Manager AJ Hinch was asked the other day if he believed in the notion that one team can simply have another team’s number.
“No,” was his answer. It may have been the first one-word answer he’s ever given, but the look on his face made it clear no further explanation was coming, or needed.
Maybe he just hasn’t been here long enough. Because the Cleveland Indians, since 2015, have absolutely had the Tigers’ number.
They wrapped up another season series romp putting a 11-0 hurt on the Tigers on Sunday. Not only did they ruin right-hander Drew Hutchison’s return to the big leagues after three years, they almost made their own history with starter Triston McKenzie flirting with a perfect game.
BOXSCORE: Indians 11, Tigers 0
“It was clearly his day today,” Hinch said. “He had his way through our lineup. It was a good day for him and not a good day for us on a lot of levels. Luckily we have a day off (Monday) to get this feeling out of the way and get to a new team and a new series.”
The Indians have won every season series since 2015. Since 2016, they are 77-27. It’s been so one-sided, the Indians’ press notes refer to the Tigers as the Kitties. Why wouldn’t they?
It’s been a big brother-little brother relationship for six years.
“If you want to be the best, you want to beat the teams that are ahead of you,” said second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who played a pivotal role in this one. “In the past we’ve had trouble with this team, but I wish we could play them every day so we can show we’re better than them.
“But they were better than us today.”
McKenzie, the Indians skinny right-hander who made his big-league debut against the Tigers with a 10-strikeout performance last year but came in with an ERA just south of 6.0, shredded the Tigers for 7.2 perfect innings, striking out 11.
“He was really good, he had his A-game today,” Schoop said. “He controlled all his pitches. And as the game goes on, I don’t want to say pressure, but it starts adding a little bit to it when he’s got a perfect game going on.
“Everybody is trying to get a hit. Nobody wants somebody to throw a perfect game against you.”
With two outs in the eighth, Hittin’ Harold Castro lined a single to right field to end his bid for baseball immortality.
McKenzie, with a lively fastball, curveball and slider mix, got 21 swings and misses and 15 called strikes. He punched out Miguel Cabrera twice in three at-bats, not letting him threaten his 500th home run.
“I don’t know if you could tell, but I was fired up when I got the strikeout (of Cabrera) in the seventh,” McKenzie told Bally Sports Cleveland. “Just happy to be part of the game of baseball. There’s so much to love, being a part of history and getting a chance to face Miggy when he’s going for his 500th home run.
“That was huge.”
The remaining portion of the Comerica Park crowd, announced at 25,684, gave McKenzie a richly-deserved standing ovation.
The game itself had long been decided.
Hutchison, the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starter in 2015 who has been on a nine-team journey since 2016, earned a return to the big leagues with a strong season at Triple-A Toledo. That after spending 2020 in independent ball.
But baseball doesn’t care about your journey. Hutchison’s return went off the rails and crashed in the second inning, thrown off course by a debatable decision by Schoop.
The Indians had runners at the corners with no outs. Hutchison got Owen Miller to hit a one-hopper right at Schoop, who was positioned just a couple of feet from second base. It would have been a fairly routine double play, but he threw the ball to home plate.
The throw beat the runner, Bradley Zimmer, by several feet but catcher Grayson Greiner dropped the throw.
Instead of having two outs, a run in and the bases empty, the Indians had a run in, no outs and two on.
The Indians ended up scoring six runs, capped by a two-run homer by Jose Ramirez.
“I see it as an aggressive mistake,” Hinch said. “We’re playing back to get the sure out and in that situation a sure two outs because of how hard the ball was hit and Schoop’s ability to turn the double-play himself. I know what he was trying to do — just create the out at home and Grayson’s got to secure the ball.
“But Schoop, I think, should take the play at second and try to turn the double play. This is hindsight, but it was the easier play and even if we got the out at home, they still had two runners on base with one out.”
Schoop didn’t disagree with that, but then again, he didn’t necessarily regret his decision.
“I’m aggressive,” he said. “If I feel like I can get something, I’m not scared to do it. I felt I had a good chance to get him out at home and then maybe the next guy hits into a double-play and we’re out of the inning with no runs.
“But it didn’t go our way.”
The third inning was just as bad, with lefty Ian Krol taking the brunt of it. A misplay at first base by Renato Nunez (scored a hit) and an error by Schoop opened the flood gates for five more runs. A two-run triple by Amed Rosario and an RBI double by Ramirez were the big blows.
“It was just a complete mess for two innings,” Hinch said.
The carnage in the second and third innings looked like this: 11 runs, six earned run, nine hits, five extra-base hits, two errors and three walks.
No coming back from that.
Fortunately, the Tigers will never have to play the “Indians” again. The next time they play a baseball team from Cleveland, it will be called the Guardians.