SEE WHAT TIGERS HAVE DONE TO INDIANS’ ACE

C.C., C-ya. One way not to worry about your pitching is to jump all over the other guy’s pitching. It sure worked Thursday afternoon, in a game that kicked off the second half of the Tigers’ season and gave them a big winning boost as they turn to the heat of the summer.

They got this needed victory by pummeling none other than C.C. Sabathia, the California phenom signed out of high school who, now 26, has more career victories (93) than anyone his age in baseball and who this season is making the biggest good on his promise. Sabathia had 12 victories and just two losses coming in, he hadn’t lost in almost three weeks, and he not only made the All-Star Game, he might be the starting pitcher.

If so, that will be his next start, and he’ll be happy not to have to face any Tigers.

C.C., C-ya. Detroit lit up Sabathia for seven runs in just four innings – his worst performance of the year. And you knew it early. The Tigers came out pounding. Their second batter, Placido Polanco, hit a homer to left. Two innings later, Carlos Guillen whacked a two-strike pitch over the wall for a three-run blast. Even the outs were impressive. Magglio Ordonez, Craig Monroe and Gary Sheffield all rocked balls to the warning track in the first few innings.

“You could see it in guys’ eyes when we came in,” Sheffield said. “We didn’t want Cleveland to win the series. We don’t want these guys to walk out of here with confidence that they can beat us. We want to show them we can beat you also.”

Ten hits? Seven runs? Three homers?

Against the winningest pitcher this season?

C.C., C-ya.

A showdown in the Central

Now, Sheffield’s words were not idle sports talk. Every victory counts the same in baseball, but some are more significant than others, more combustible than others, more a statement than others. Last year at this time, the Indians were 17 1/2 games out of first place. Beating them then – or beating their best pitcher – would have meant very little.

But this year, the Indians have been more like last year’s Tigers than the Tigers have been. They’re in first place. They’re opportunistic. They’d gotten the better of Detroit six of the nine games they’d played before Thursday – AND they’d pounded on the Tigers’ best pitcher, Justin Verlander, the last time he faced them – with Sabathia again on the mound.

But here was Verlander hurling Thursday, and once his teammates spotted him a cushy lead, he wasn’t going to blow it. He pitched seven strong innings. He kept the potent Cleveland bats in check. At one point, he struck out five Indians in a row. His last pitch was a strike three to Casey Blake, the Tiger killer.

And with that, Verlander walked off the mound with a nine-run lead and a soon-to-be 10th victory of the year. And he quietly sent a message to Cleveland, whose lead over Detroit is now just one game: It’s a long season, Indians. Don’t get too cocky.

“He’s really good,” manager Jim Leyland said of Verlander. “That’s a lot of equipment. … You see guys throw 97 or 98. But it’s very rare that you see guys that young with three pitches like he has: fastball, curveball, change-up -“

Jim, you had us at “he’s really good.”

Plenty of offensive fireworks

And so, too, are the Tigers when they hit the way they did Thursday. It’s a joyous thing to watch. After the low-wattage efforts of Detroit teams over the past 15 years, you love seeing games in which the Tigers look like lumberjacks and the opposing pitchers look like trees.

Every Detroit starter had at least one hit in the 12-3 victory. The Tigers had 17 hits in all. The runs came quickly, in bunches, the way a manager likes it, the way fans like it. No one expects the Tigers to win all the time. But they have to win the series at home if they expect to see the Series come October.

“Last year,” Leyland said, “we surprised the fans and they gradually got into it. … Now they’re biting their nails to see if we can do it again. … That’s why they’re a little antsy.”

A little less antsy this morning. Games like Thursday’s will do that. Win a series? Knock out your rival’s best pitcher? Have your ace throw a gem? And have everybody hitting?

Now all the Tigers have to do is do it again, this weekend, against the league-leading Red Sox. We don’t ask for much, do we?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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