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Say goodbye to Detroit's six-game winning streak. The hottest team in baseball suffered its first loss in a week courtesy of Michael Brantley and the Cleveland Indians, who topped the Tigers, 5-4 in 10 innings at home. Despite surrendering a game-tying homer to J.D. Martinez in the ninth inning, the Indians were able to bounce back and snap a four-game skid.
Brantley, who had reached base three times already in the game, came up to the plate with two outs and nobody on against Al Alburquerque, working his first inning of relief. Working exclusively with his slider, Alburquerque got ahead 0-1, fell behind, then got Brantley to chase on a pitch for strike two. But Brantley took the next pitch to work the count full, fought off another slider, then took Alburquerque's seventh pitch of the at-bat and sent it out on a line to right field for the game-winning blast.
Brantley's heroics — Monday's walk-off homer was the first of his career — comes in what's been a career season for the 27-year-old. With nine homers, Brantley is already just one off his career high, set last season, and his .497 slugging percentage represents a 100-point jump from last year. Already a patient hitter with a career walk rate of 7.4 percent, Brantley has upped that to 9.4 percent through 181 plate appearances, which would be his best single-season mark since 2012. He's walking more than he's striking out (17 walks to 16 whiffs), something that's helped him put up a weighted on-base average of .386 — the sixth-highest mark in the American League.
The walkoff win was a big one for a Cleveland team that started the month on a hot streak, going 7-3 in its first 10 games in May, but has since fallen off the pace. Monday's victory was the Indians' first since a 15-4 thrashing of Toronto on May 14. Since then, the Tribe had been outscored 36 to 8. Granted, three of those games came against the AL's best team in Oakland (which dropped 30 runs on Cleveland in just three games), but the Indians are far from full strength or effectiveness right now. Jason Kipnis remains on the disabled list with an oblique injury; Danny Salazar has been booted to Triple-A after a poor start to 2014; and the bullpen remains a shaky unit. On Monday, new closer Cody Allen — who took over for the deposed John Axford — blew his first save of the season by giving up Martinez's solo shot in the ninth. That final frame has been a big issue for the Indians. Cleveland relievers have a 5.03 ERA in the ninth or after, with six homers allowed in 34 innings.
Whether the bullpen can bounce back or if the rotation can find some consistency remains to be seen. The same can be said for key members of the offense like Nick Swisher
, who came into Monday hitting just .196/.295/.313 but went 2-for-4 with an RBI, or Carlos Santana
, whose 0-for-4 night dropped his batting average to .148. At the very least, the Indians can count on Brantley to keep delivering.