Ninth Inning Lead Disappears Quick; Tigers 4, Indians 2

Leading 2-0 in the ninth with Chris Perez on the mound to close the game, it looked like the Indians were well on their way to cutting into the Tigers three game AL Central division lead. But Detroit would not go down without a fight on a night where Perez just didn’t have it. In the inning, the Tigers sent 10 batters to the plate and erupted for four runs highlighted by Alex Avila‘s three-run blast to give the Tigers a 4-2 win over the Indians Monday night at Progressive Field.

Just his third blown save of the season, Chris Perez (4-2) was charged with four runs on three hits in zero innings. The loss drops the Indians to 62-50 and four games behind the Tigers in the race for the AL Central Division title.

Both starting pitchers, Corey Kluber and Anibal Sanchez turned in strong performances in a game filled with spectacular defensive plays.

Michael Brantley started the defensive highlight reel party in the first inning when Torii Hunter tried to stretch a single into a double. Brantley fielded and fired a one hopper to Jason Kipnis to gun down Hunter and earn himself his league leading 10th outfield assist of the season. Miguel Cabrera followed with a two-out double down the right field line, but Kluber struck out Prince Fielder to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard.

Detroit threatened again in the second with two on and no outs. Victor Martinez singled, Andy Dirks walked, and Avila smacked a drive to deep left center but Michael Bourn made a tremendous running catch on the warning track. Jose Iglesias then hit into a fielder’s choice to short. Asdrubal Cabrera fielded and fired to Kipnis who threw to Swisher for the double play, but Iglesias beat out the throw to keep the inning alive. The next batter Ramon Santiago laced a grounder to first that was fielded by a diving Swisher who stepped on the bag to end the inning.

Cabrera kicked off the second inning with a deep drive to left but Dirks made a nice leaping catch on the warning track. Brantley followed with a one-out single to center and moved into scoring position with his 12th steal of the season. Carlos Santana struck out looking before Jason Giambi, who’s batting .303 with runners in scoring position this year, lined a two-out RBI single to right to put the Indians in front 1-0. Lonnie Chisenhall followed up Giambi by driving the first pitch he saw to deep center. The ball looked like it had legs to get out of the park, but Austin Jackson timed it perfectly and made a fine jumping grab to rob Chisenhall of extra bases.

Sanchez was efficient on the mound, throwing strikes and keeping his pitch count low throughout. After striking out Kipnis and Cabrera to start the fourth, Sanchez give up a two-out single to Brantley. Santana followed with a two-out RBI double off the top of the right field wall to score Brantley and extend the Tribe lead to 2-0.

In the seventh, the Indians added two more defensive gems to the highlight reel. With two singles in his first two plate appearances, Martinez roped a line drive to right. A back-peddling Drew Stubbs stuck with the ball and timed his jump perfectly to rob Martinez of his third hit of the game. Andy Dirks followed with a grounder up the middle that found Kipnis racing to his right to field the ball, spinning in the air, and making a perfect throw to nail Dirks at first.

One highlight wasn’t enough for Kipnis – he wanted more. Jose Iglesias led off the eighth inning with what looked to be a single into the grass between second and first. But Kipnis had different plans, making a terrific all-out dive into the grass, hopping to his feet, and firing to first to get Iglesias by a half step.

Santiago followed with a one-out single to end Kluber’s night. Before Santiago’s single, Kluber had retired eight straight batters. Kluber was great all night, scattering six hits over 7.1 innings. He struck out six and walked one. Seven is Kluber’s lucky number this season. Coming into the game, the righty had five starts of seven or more innings under his belt. In those starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.60 ERA.

Joe Smith relieved Kluber to face Austin Jackson. The Tigers’ center fielder singled to give Detroit two on with one out. Torii Hunter followed with a single to right that should have loaded the bases for Miguel Cabrera, but that wasn’t the case thanks to a big base-running mistake by Jackson. Thinking third base coach Tom Brookens would wave home Santiago, the speedy Jackson made a huge turn around second with his eye on third. Stubbs quickly recognized and threw the ball into Asdrubal Cabrera, who chased down Jackson and applied the tag for out number two. Reigning AL Triple Crown winner Cabrera grounded out to end the scoring threat.

Phil Coke relieved Sanchez with two outs in the seventh. The righty turned in a strong performance of his own, fanning 11 while giving up two runs on four hits and two walks.

In the ninth, things took a turn for the worst for Cleveland. With Perez on the mound, Fielder led off the ninth with a double down the left field line. Victor Martinez then hit his third single of the game to bring Fielder around to score. Hernán Pérez came on to pinch run for Martinez and Dirks walked to give the Tigers two on with no outs. Alex Aviles stepped up to the plate and delivered a major blow with a towering three-run homer to left center, putting the Tigers on top 4-2.

Cody Allen relieved Perez. With still no outs, Iglesias singled, and Santiago laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Iglesias to second. Jackson struck out on a wild pitch to the backstop that allowed Jackson to reach base. Allen struck out Torii Hunter for the second out and intentionally walked Cabrera to load the bases one more time before giving way to newly acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski from the St. Louis Cardinals. Rzepczynski got Fielder to ground out to prevent further damage.

Righty reliever Al Alburquerque (2-2) got the win for the Tigers.

Joaquín Benoit retired the Indians in the ninth for his 13th save of the season.

The Indians will try to get a game back from the first place Tigers tomorrow night at 7:05 ET. It will be a match-up of aces with Justin Masterson (13-7, 3.33) taking on Justin Verlander (11-8, 3.88). Masterson will look to win his fourth straight start. In those outings, the big right-hander has only allowed two runs over 21.1 innings of work.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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