CLEVELAND — A key Central Division series for the Indians couldn’t have begun any worse.
Seemingly en route to a win in the opener of a four-game set with first-place Detroit, Cleveland instead tasted a bitter defeat, with the Tigers rallying for four runs in the ninth inning off closer Chris Perez to notch a 4-2 victory.
With a boisterous crowd in attendance at Progressive Field, the Indians were in control for nearly the entire game thanks to another sparkling outing from right-hander Corey Kluber and top-shelf defense from the fielders behind him.
But it was a nightmarish finish for Perez and the Indians, with Detroit’s Alex Avila taking the closer deep for a game-winning, three-run home run after Perez allowed the first three hitters he faced to reach base.
“It hurt,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But we’ll show up (today). We certainly need to be resilient, and we’ve shown that. If we allow this to get in our way, we’re not the team I thought we were.”
Though he’s been criticized for much of the season, Perez had been near impenetrable since leaving the disabled list — 11 straight saves and just two earned runs in 18 games.
But the right-hander, who was pitching for the third straight day, had little in the tank for one of the biggest moments of the season.
Perez allowed a leadoff double to Prince Fielder, who scored on Victor Martinez’s single. After walking Andy Dirks, Perez fell behind Avila 2-0 before Detroit’s catcher connected into the lower section of the bleachers in left field.
Perez, who has not spoken to reporters since leaving the injured list, dressed and left before the media arrived in the clubhouse after the game.
“It was tough,” Cleveland center fielder Michael Bourn said of the defeat. “This one was probably one of the toughest losses we’ve had. We’ll see how we respond and it will show what kind of team we have.”
The loss continued Cleveland’s futility against Detroit this year, with the Tigers beating the Indians for the 10th time in 13 games and improving to 6-1 at Progressive Field.
The Tigers won their ninth straight game, while Cleveland lost for just the second time in 12 games.
The loss stung more significantly for the Indians, who ultimately wasted a brilliant outing from Kluber, who shut out a vaunted Tigers lineup on six hits while striking out six over 7⅓ innings.
The Indians weren’t able to build much of a cushion for Kluber, with Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez allowing just two runs on four hits while striking out 11 over 7⅔ innings.
Jason Giambi’s two-out single in the second inning scored the first run of the game, with a two-out double from Carlos Santana capping Cleveland’s scoring output in the fourth.
“We don’t have any choice but to bounce back,” Kluber said. “We’ve got a lot of veteran guys in here that probably won’t let a lull happen.”
It was the Indians’ first loss in 30 games when leading after eight innings at home. They entered the night 51-1 overall when leading after eight innings.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.