With Justin Masterson on the mound against a Detroit rookie making his big league debut, this seemed like a good chance for the Cleveland Indians to avoid a sweep.
Instead, they lost their seventh game in a row, sliding further behind the Tigers in the AL Central standings.
Jose Alvarez pitched six impressive innings in his major league debut, and Don Kelly hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the sixth to help the Tigers to a 4-1 victory over the Indians on Sunday.
The three-game sweep gave first-place Detroit a 51/2-game lead in the division over Cleveland.
“It’s a long season. We can’t worry about it,” said Ryan Raburn, who homered to drive in Cleveland’s only run. “We’re playing as hard as we can. Just not catching any breaks.”
Alvarez (1-0) was starting because of Anibal Sanchez’s shoulder tightness, and he held Cleveland hitless until Raburn’s fifth-inning homer. The 24-year-old left-hander allowed three hits and a walk and struck out seven.
“He pitched a great game,” Masterson said. “Especially for his major league debut. ... Kept us off balance.”
Drew Smyly pitched two innings of relief. Joaquin Benoit finished for his third save.
Masterson (8-5) allowed four runs in seven innings. He gave up a walk to Miguel Cabrera and a single to Prince Fielder to start the Detroit sixth. One out later, Kelly lifted a drive over the wall in right field.
“I don’t even think it was a mistake,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “Just trying to change the eye level, got it down and in. Actually, it wasn’t a strike and it got in his swing path. ... Give Kelly credit — a tough pitch to hit.”
The Tigers have built their division lead behind terrific starting pitching. Sanchez has been perhaps their best pitcher so far, but Detroit skipped the right-hander’s start because of tightness in the back of his throwing shoulder.
Enter Alvarez, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Toledo before the game. He baffled the Indians during the early innings, allowing only a leadoff walk to Mark Reynolds in the second before Raburn — the former Tiger — tied the game at 1 with his seventh homer of the season.
The left-handed hitting Kelly brought a .190 average into the game, but Detroit manager Jim Leyland started him against Masterson, who is tough on righties.
The move paid off with Kelly’s third homer of the year, which gave the Tigers a 4-1 lead.
“It was a slider down and in, and I was able to put a good swing on it,” Kelly said.