There was no whining, no finger-pointing, no excuses. On a day when they suffered a major loss before the game, the Detroit Tigers could have given in.
Instead, they came together. Like champions.
Alex Avila’s three-run homer in the ninth inning off closer Chris Perez rallied the Tigers to their ninth straight win, 4-2 on Monday night over the Cleveland Indians.
A few hours earlier, the Tigers had learned they would be without All-Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta for 50 games after he was suspended by Major League Baseball for his association with Biogenesis of America, a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Detroit was three outs away from having its lead in the AL Central cut to two games by the second-place Indians before the comeback against Perez (4-2), who had converted 11 consecutive save opportunities.
"It feels good after all the stuff that happened before the game," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "We went out there and battled. We kept our focus and were professionals about it. We did what we’re capable of doing."
After Victor Martinez’s RBI single made it 2-1, Perez walked Andy Dirks before Avila drove a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left-center for his ninth homer, stunning a Cleveland crowd ready to celebrate the team’s biggest win this season.
Manager Terry Francona had no choice but to relieve the controversial Perez, who sullenly walked to the dugout after not retiring a batter and heard only boos from Indians fans. Perez did not stick around after the game, leaving before he could be interviewed by reporters.
Al Alburquerque (2-2) got one in the eighth and Joaquin Benoit worked the ninth for his 13th save as the Tigers opened a little more distance over the Indians.
"It was a terrific game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We were fortunate enough to get a good closer. You don’t get him very often, but tonight we did."
Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez struck out 11 in 7 2-3 innings, and was in line to take a tough loss before the Tigers stormed back for their 13th win in 14 games.
It was a demoralizing setback for the Indians, who fell to 3-10 against the Tigers this season and had their home winning streak stopped at 11.
"We gotta win those games," Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. "That’s how I see it. That’s a tough team over there, granted. But that’s a swing game. That’s the top of the division. If we want to be at the top, we’ve got to be able to knock them out."
Cleveland’s Corey Kluber had blanked Detroit’s big bats for 7 1-3 innings and set the tone in a crucial four-game series before the Indians’ problematic bullpen blew it.
The Tigers’ rally started innocently enough with Price Fielder blooping a double into the left-field corner that Martinez followed with a single, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 2-1. Pinch runner Hernan Perez came in for Martinez and Perez walked Dirks, setting the stage for Avila’s big swing.
When Avila reached Detroit’s dugout, as he was swarmed over by his teammates as the Tigers won for the ninth time in 10 games against their division rival.
"It feels exactly how you think it would feel," Avila said. "It feels good."
Kluber limited the Tigers to six singles and got some excellent defense, but the Indians couldn’t close out a game that was within their grasp. The right-hander settled in after a somewhat shaky start and held the AL’s top hitting team in check.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, back in the lineup after missing a few games with hip and abdominal problems, went 1 for 4 — he was walked intentionally in the ninth — and labored noticeably any time he tried to run.
While Peralta’s teammates were willing to address his suspension and offered their support, Leyland wanted to talk only about baseball before the game.
As he brewed a fresh cup of coffee in his office, Leyland answered a few questions, ending each response with "next question" before he abruptly ended the session when a reporter asked if he had any comment about Peralta.
"See you guys, see ya later," Leyland said, gesturing toward the door. "You were told I wasn’t going to comment on that. See ya."
The mood was slightly different on Cleveland’s side of Progressive Field as Francona reported that he had spoken by phone to Commissioner Bud Selig to offer his support on the Biogenesis scandal that rocked the majors.
After the game, Francona said this was a tough loss to take.
"It hurt, but we’ll show up tomorrow," Francona said. "We certainly need to be resilient and we’ve shown that before. If we allow it to get in the way then we’re not the team I thought we were."
The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on Carlos Santana’s RBI double, a shot off the right-field wall that just missed being a two-run homer.
Jason Giambi’s RBI single gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in the second, when Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson robbed Lonnie Chisenhall of a possible homer.
Brantley singled with one out and stole second. With two down, Giambi, closing in on 2,000 career hits, delivered his run-scoring single to center. Chisenhall followed with a drive to center that Jackson snared with a leaping grab at the wall in front of the Indians’ bullpen.
NOTES: The Tigers have won 22 of 29. … Detroit’s bullpen was the last in the majors to record 10 wins. … Sanchez has allowed two runs or less in nine of his 11 road starts. … Brantley recorded his AL-leading 10th assist in the first when he gunned down Hunter at second trying to stretch a single. … The Tigers purchased the contract of RHP Jeremy Bonderman from Triple-A Toledo, and recalled Perez from Double-A Erie. … Indians ace Justin Masterson (13-7) will face Justin Verlander (11-8) in Tuesday’s game.