CLEVELAND -- It was not an image that Indians fans wanted to see. Detroit's Victor Martinez, a friend turned foe, ran up the first-base line, thrust his right arm skyward and silenced an already subdued Cleveland crowd on Thursday with a three-run home run in extra innings.
There were scattered cheers from the Tigers faithful who made the trek to Progressive Field, adding some insult to the misery of the Tribe's 11-4, 11-inning blowout loss in the finale of a critical four-game divisional series. Opening September with three losses to Detroit was not what the Indians had in mind when they welcomed their rivals across the state line.
"I'm not going to lie to you and say it isn't tough," Indians starter Trevor Bauer said. "We had a chance to win the game. To have it end, especially like that, a loss is always tough, but a loss like that stings a little bit. But there's a lot of season left, a lot of games to be played."
Twenty-four games, to be exact.
That is how many contests Cleveland has to try to cut into its six-game deficit behind the American League Central-leading Royals and the five-game gap that exists behind the Tigers, who currently lead the chase for the AL's second Wild Card spot. It goes without saying that this series against Detroit wound up being one big missed opportunity.
Staff leader Corey Kluber took it on the chin on Monday. Closer Cody Allen blew a rare save on Tuesday. After Danny Salazar temporarily righted the ship with his first career shutout on Wednesday, Cleveland turned in what ultimately wound up being a clunker in the finale. The Tribe showed its signature fight, but a seven-run outburst in the 11th inning erased much of the effort.
It was the kind of series that can crush a team living on the fringe of contention.
"They'll be OK," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "After the tough loss [on Tuesday], they came back. There was energy. There's nothing else to do."
The loss on this night fell on the shoulders of reliever Josh Tomlin, who was making his first appearance for the Indians after some time away for the birth of his daughter. In a span of six batters in the 11th inning, the right-hander issued two walks, yielded three hits and relinquished five runs. That outpouring was punctuated by the rocket shot down the right-field line by Martinez, a former Indian.
When it was all said and done, Detroit pounded out seven runs in the decisive frame, turning a tightly contested battle into a laugher. That canceled out the nine shutout innings spun between Bauer (5 2/3 innings) and the five relievers who preceded Tomlin. It also more than overcame Cleveland's effort against starter Max Scherzer and the Tigers' bullpen.
"The guys fought back. It was a heck of a game," Tomlin said. "The guys that came in kept it close, and I came in there and then they blew it up off of me. It's very disappointing."
Long before Cleveland's extra-inning meltdown, Bauer's familiar first-inning woes returned against the Tigers.
In a 38-pitch opening frame, Bauer surrendered four runs on four hits with three walks. As has been the case more than a few times this season, though, Bauer settled down after the rough first and gave Cleveland a chance to claw back into the game.
Bauer has yielded a Major League-high 20 runs in the first inning among starters with no more than 22 starts this season. That said, the 16 earned runs he has allowed have come within eight of his 22 turns in the rotation for Cleveland. In the remainder of those appearances, the young righty has spun a 1.58 ERA over 40 combined frames.
That trend continued against the Tigers, but it still created a daunting task for the Tribe's offense.
"We can't get out to deficits like that," Francona said. "He worked behind in the count his first time-and-a-half through the order and, the second time, he worked ahead and the results were drastically different. ... When you are behind in the count and throwing the ball up, you are asking for trouble."
Against Scherzer, Cleveland began chipping away at its four-run deficit in the fourth inning, when Tribe catcher Yan Gomes delivered a sacrifice fly. In the sixth, Gomes knocked in another run with a groundout and Lonnie Chisenhall followed with an RBI single. All-Star Michael Brantley pulled the contest into a 4-4 deadlock with an RBI double off reliever Blaine Hardy in the seventh.
Bauer felt fortunate to have his hitters bail him out as much as they could.
"If there's any silver lining today," said the pitcher, "it's how the offense battled back and got us back in it."
Then again, that only made the ending all the more painful for the Tribe.
"It's disappointing," Francona said. "We're down, 4-0, before we can take a deep breath and you've got Scherzer on the mound. That's not a real good formula. And they battled back so hard to tie the game. You go through pretty much the guys in the bullpen and everyone did such a good job to give us a chance.
"And then you're playing to try to give up none and you end up giving up seven. That obviously hurts."