Indians 7, Tigers 6
On a night when it seemed the 27th out might never come for the Cleveland Indians, Chris Perez threw one last fastball to Miguel Cabrera and hoped the Detroit slugger would hit it on the ground.
''He chopped it,'' Perez said. ''I wanted him to put something in play, but down. Luckily he did.''
Perez got Cabrera to hit a game-ending groundout with two on in the ninth inning, and Cleveland held on for a 7-6 win over the Tigers on Saturday night. Ubaldo Jimenez outpitched Justin Verlander, but Detroit's late rally forced the Indians to sweat out a tense finish.
Perez came on to pitch the ninth with Cleveland ahead 7-5. He was in a jam after a one-out error by first baseman Nick Swisher and a single by Omar Infante, but second baseman Jason Kipnis made a sparkling play behind second, fielding Austin Jackson's grounder up the middle and flipping behind his back to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera for a force.
''Awesome - that saved me,'' Perez said. ''It made up for Swish's play. Baseball kind of works out that way. He picked me up.''
That was out No. 26. The Indians still needed one more, and Torii Hunter's RBI single gave Miguel Cabrera another trip to the plate with men on first and second.
The count ran from 0-2 to 3-2, but Cabrera - who entered the day leading the majors in batting average and RBIs - hit a slow grounder to third to end it. It was Perez's sixth save.
''We fought tooth and nail to get the right guy up there,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ''I'll take that situation every time, but even that guy can't come through every time. We just put ourselves in too big a hole.''
Verlander (4-3) was erratic early, allowing three runs in the first two innings. He settled down a bit after that, but the Indians took a 6-1 lead before Detroit closed the gap with a four-run seventh.
Jimenez (3-2) allowed a run and three hits in six innings, striking out eight with one walk. He's won three straight starts for the first time since the Indians acquired him in a trade in 2011.
Jhonny Peralta hit a solo homer for Detroit.
Swisher opened the scoring with an RBI double in the first, and Jason Giambi drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 2-0. That was Verlander's third walk of the first inning.
The Detroit ace got the first two outs of the second but allowed another run when Kipnis hit a single and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a double.
''My fastball control just wasn't good at all,'' Verlander said. ''I was trying to get ahead with the fastball and then throw off-speed stuff, hoping I could grind out six innings, but I didn't even do that.''
Verlander allowed six hits and five walks in five innings, striking out seven and leaving after 110 pitches. After Peralta's homer got the Tigers on the board in the third, Cleveland added an unearned run off Verlander in the fifth to make it 4-1.
Swisher walked to lead off that inning, and Carlos Santana hit what looked like a double play grounder to first baseman Prince Fielder, who stepped on first and threw to second to trap Swisher between bases. Miguel Cabrera, the third baseman, was involved in the rundown because a defensive shift had him playing close to second, and he threw the ball away for an error. Swisher eventually scored on a two-out single by Mark Reynolds.
Asdrubal Cabrera's RBI single in the sixth made it 5-1, and pinch-hitter Mike Aviles added a run-scoring single of his own in the seventh, but the Cleveland bullpen almost gave up the lead. Jimenez left after 93 pitches, and Nick Hagadone allowed a double and two walks to start the Detroit seventh.
Cody Allen came on and allowed a sacrifice fly to pinch-hitter Brayan Pena. Infante added a two-run triple and scored on Jackson's groundout to make it 6-5.
A sacrifice fly by Giambi in the eighth gave Cleveland an insurance run the Indians would end up needing.
When Jimenez was acquired two years ago, the Indians hoped they were getting an ace who could help them compete with teams like the Tigers. The right-hander hasn't come close to expectations, but he's pitching better now.
''I think it's all about my mechanics,'' Jimenez said. ''I think the last three games I've been able to repeat my mechanics with every pitch.''
This was Cleveland's seventh game this season against a former Cy Young Award winner, and the Indians are 6-1 in those games.
NOTES: It rained a bit early in the game, but not hard enough to halt play. ... Peralta and Miguel Cabrera extended their hitting streaks to 10 games. ... Fielder was hit in the left thigh in the eighth and went hobbling toward the mound, but he wasn't charging reliever Joe Smith. He was just trying to run through the pain a bit and his momentum took him in the direction of the pitcher. ... Jimenez's previous three-start winning streak was in July 2011, less than a month before the trade to Cleveland. ... The Indians have not lost any of their last six series. The rubber game of this three-game set is Sunday, with Cleveland's Zach McAllister (3-3) facing Detroit's Rick Porcello (1-2).