TOP OF THE FIFTH: INDIANS 8
(2) – 2 TIGERS
Left, right, left, right—a pinball-esque onslaught of baseballs soaring into the outfield stands of Comerica Park, unlocking bonus rounds and score multipliers, and it’s nine straight wins stacked up, reeled in, strung together, for the first-place Cleveland Indians, on their way to the top of the A.L. heap.
— MLB (@MLB) June 26, 2016
On the first pitch of the inning: Juan Uribe’s bat whips through the zone and connects on a fastball from Verlander, with the cameras hardly set up after the ad break and the ball hooking just inside of the left-field foul pole, before anyone on the field or press box is ready. The score notched up to 3-2, Tribe ahead.
And on the third pitch of the inning: Tyler Naquin goes back-to-back, well deep into the right-field stands—“Freaky Fast!” says the Jimmy John’s ad on the right-center wall, like a catch-phrase narration of the home run’s trajectory.
Three pitches into the fifth, it’s 4-2 Indians—doing the dance of the winning streak, eight straight W’s at their back, pouncing on win number nine with Justin Verlander melting down on the mound for Detroit, his status as team ace some long erased story from the past.
In the crowd, an away fan holds up a cardboard, painted Chief Wahoo, waving it in back and forth in the air, team pride out in full effect for the best month of sports in Cleveland’s history.
Lebron James—King James, origin of the soon-to-be-renamed Clebronland, Ohio—brought the Cavaliers out from the swampy, sorry woes of championship drought, and lit up a grateful smile in owner Dan Gilbert, joyful speech bubbles beside his face written in comic sans. The Decision had come full circle.
Cleveland rocks! people were screaming, Cleveland rocks!
With a mob of lunch-time office workers trailing Drew Carey through the streets to join the parade, a full tailgate party outside the “Jake,” millions of ‘Landers in true celebration for the first time in decades.
cavs came back from 3-1. indians are on a 10-game win streak. lake erie monsters won the AHL. might have to put $20 on the browns at 200-1
— alex (@steven_lebron) June 28, 2016
So with the exception of Marlins Man’s rough recent outing at Progressive Field, Cleveland is on top again. Is this as good as it gets?
Back in Detroit, after the two home runs, a calm before the continuation of the storm. Verlander steals two quick outs from the Indians, with the game still well within reach, the inning at that point still just back-to-back blips on the season ERA.
And then, Francisco Lindor comes up and rips a base-hit up the middle.
Mike Napoli strolls up to the plate, a big inning on his mind, and he crushes another home run deep into the half-filled stands in left, bouncing around between a pack of fans and the green plastic seats.
“Yeah-hah babee,” he says, caught on one of the in-field mics, slapping hands with Lindor as he trots home to score.
“It was a slider that didn’t slide,” says one of the Indians’ TV guys, as Verlander slams the ball into his glove, rubbing his neck as if he can angry his way out of this one. He shakes it off, sets back up on the mound, and delivers with no hesitation to Jose Ramirez—and it’s another single to center.
On the mound, there’s a quick meeting with the Tigers’ manager, their catcher, the third-baseman, and then the home-plate umpire, telling them to break it up.
Lonnie Chisenhall steps up next, who’s locked in a three-way tie with Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert for the AL Central’s category for old-fashioned baseball name cachet. Lonnie Chisenhall… in league with Reginald Vanderbilt. Bartholomew Fitzgerald. Desiderius Constantine.
Behind Chisenhall, on the padded wall behind home plate, is an ad for in-state tourism (in addition to the “Pure Michigan” spots inside the home dugout), and I’m not sure what that says about the state of the Tigers. Haven’t seen the White Sox advertising “Enjoy Illinois” or the wonders of Galena and/or Springfield.
The ad reads:
FRANKENMUTH: It’s festive. It’s Michigan.
Hold on a second. Frankenmuth? It’s way more than festive. Frankenmuth, Michigan contains the greatest concentration of Germanalia outside of Bavaria itself, an entire (I think, though I missed my extended family’s 2013 reunion there) townful of guten-this and danke-that, all culminating in the greatest of Europa-Americana in all the land: the tradition of the “Schnitzel Bank” drinking song.
Ist das nicht eine Schnitzel Bank?
Ja das ist eine Schnitzel Bank!
In an country of stadiums selling Budweiser and Coors, Chase and PNC, this takes the cake of most unexpected. Fantastic ad. Arguably fantastic town. And with what’s happened to Justin Verlander in this fifth inning, there may be a sudden road trip in order for all Michiganders present, a sprint from parking lot to biergarten, a chugging of Weißbier and kottbusser, pilseners and doppelbocks—all to forget what happened to what once was the 2016 Detroit Tigers.
The next words from one of the Cleveland TV guys, and the home-crowd faithful starts up for the exits.
“Lonnie liftoff,” he shouts, “deep to right!”
Two-run homer. Another. Verlander’s standing there on the infield grass, his face in a shocked frown, his neck looking sunburnt, and his pride buried somewhere deep under the mound, the field, the sewer system of this city, unrecognizable and shriveled up beyond recovery.
“It has happened in a hurry, and it has happened with power!”
But then, some hope—as the Tigers outfielders call for a replay, Mike Aviles and Cameron Maybin consulting on what’s being talking about on the broadcast as a fan interference play.
They roll back the tape: Aviles leaps up to the wall, skying up near the railing like a failed alley oop, as the ball hits off the metal barrier above the padding. It’s off the thick, unmoving wrist of a single fan, who’s donned a decades-weathered tigers hat, sweat-stained orange sleeveless tee, and neither grimaces nor moves as the ball sneaks through the green metal bars and bounces at his feet on the cement floor of the bleachers.
Aviles looks at his replayed leap on the TV board above the field, watching it again, and then jumping up and down—either in anger at it being called a home run, or in pride at how high he ended up jumping, the one saving grace to a lost game, a lost season.
The umpires confer and the call stands. No dice for Aviles. No fan interference.
A two-run homer for Chisenhall, and the Tribe have racked up six runs in the fifth inning alone, all on home runs.
The AL Central has officially been claimed. Cleveland for days. Lebron James off on a yacht somewhere, prepping his lines for Spacejam 2, live-streaming the Indians’ game and smiling, cheering, gathering the family.
Great baseball is back in the ‘Land.