CLEVELAND (AP) — Detroit manager Jim Leyland had a feeling the squeeze was on in the seventh inning Tuesday night.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, he was right.
Aaron Cunningham bunted home the go-ahead run with a squeeze play as the Cleveland Indians beat Detroit 3-2, ending the Tigers’ five-game winning streak.
The third-place Indians moved within three games of the AL Central-leading Tigers.
Leyland gave full credit to Indians manager Manny Acta for deciding to squeeze, which came when Aaron Cunningham bunted a 1-1 pitch in front of the plate to score pinch-runner Lou Marson.
“It was a great call by Manny,” Leyland said. “That was the run that beat us.”
Leyland thought Acta might not call for the squeeze until Cunningham got the count in his favor.
“He didn’t wait and they got it down,” Leyland said. “We were certainly aware of it. That’s why I had Alex (Avila, the Tigers catcher) looking over in case I wanted to pitch out, but I didn’t do it early enough.”
“Aaron executed very well and didn’t give it away,” Acta said.
The Tigers were blanked for six innings by Ubaldo Jimenez and trailed 2-0 going into the seventh. Detroit appeared to regain the momentum when Miguel Cabrera tied the game with a home run off Joe Smith. Smith retired the first two hitters, but Quintin Berry walked on a 3-2 pitch. Cabrera took the first two pitches for balls before pitching coach Scott Radinsky went to the mound to talk to Smith and catcher Carlos Santana.
The result obviously wasn’t what the Indians wanted. Cabrera belted the next pitch to dead center for his 24th home run of the season.
The Tigers’ bid for their second six-game winning streak ended right there. Travis Hafner tripled with one out off Doug Fister (4-7) and was replaced by Marson. Marson took off running as Cunningham, a defensive replacement hitting .175, dropped a bunt in front of the plate. Fister quickly got the ball and tried to shovel it to Avila, but it rolled away. Marson scored and Cunningham took second on the error.
Fister blamed himself for the run scoring.
“It’s basically do or die and I died,” he said. “That’s why they call it the suicide squeeze. I’ve got to get the throw in a better spot.”
Fister gave up three runs and nine hits in seven innings.
The Tigers stranded nine baserunners and were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Leyland gave most of the credit for that to Jimenez, who allowed seven singles, struck out four and walked two.
“That was the best I’ve seen him since he came to Cleveland against us,” Leyland said. “He had a nasty split. We didn’t do it when we had a couple of chances, but a lot of it had to do with the way he pitched.”
Smith (6-2) got the win despite allowing Cabrera’s home run. Vinnie Pestano worked around a single and a walk in the eighth before Chris Perez pitched a perfect ninth for his 28th save in 30 chances.
“Ubaldo pitched a heck of a six innings for us,” Acta said. “He had to pitch tonight because in five of the six innings, they put the leadoff hitter on base. He did a good job, then Pestano and Perez took care of business. Chris was nails, one, two, three.”
Cleveland is 6-1 against the Tigers. Perez has saved each win. Five have been by two runs or fewer.
Johnny Damon had an RBI single in the second inning and Santana singled home a run in the fourth for Cleveland.
Great hustle by Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder helped douse the Indians’ rally in the fourth.
With runners on first and second and none out, Santana singled between first and second, driving home Jason Kipnis. Right fielder Brennan Boesch scooped up the ball and threw toward home, but Fielder cut off the throw and fired to third baseman Cabrera, getting Michael Brantley in a rundown.
Fielder then sprinted across the diamond to backup Cabrera, took a return throw from shortstop Jhonny Peralta and tagged out Brantley trying to reach third with a headfirst slide.
Hafner struck out and Damon grounded out to end the inning.
NOTES: Fielder’s hustle play resulted in a putout scored 9-3-5-6-3, which made residents of Pearblossom, Calif., proud. That’s their zip code number. … Leyland said RHP Anibal Sanchez will start Saturday in Toronto and 2B Omar Infante will bat in the second spot against left-handers and ninth against right-handers. Infante had a fifth-inning single in four at-bats. The two were acquired from Miami on Monday. … Ramon Santiago, who has been splitting Tigers second-base duties with Ryan Raburn and Danny Worth, will be the utility infielder. Raburn will play left field against lefty pitchers; Worth was optioned to Triple-A Toledo.