CLEVELAND — Danny Salazar figured he could slip one more fastball by Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera, who struck out in his first three at-bats, hit a two-run, go-ahead homer off Salazar in the eighth inning Wednesday night and the Detroit Tigers went on to outlast Cleveland 6-5 in 14 innings to increase their lead over the Indians to six games in the AL Central.
Making his second major league start, Salazar pitched brilliantly — he struck out 10 in 7 2-3 innings — but the right-hander left a fat fastball over the plate to Cabrera, who hit the kind of homer that defines legends.
With Detroit trailing 3-2, and Salazar in position to get the win, Cabrera belted his first pitch over the center-field wall for his 33rd homer — a 449-foot, no-doubt-about-it shot that sent a shiver through Progressive Field. Cabrera’s homer came after Hunter singled, but Indians manager Terry Francona decided to stick with the 23-year-old, who had overpowered Cabrera three previous times.
“I got him a couple times with my fastball, so I was going to try it again. I left it in the middle and he hit it,” Salazar said. “If you throw outside or inside to him it doesn’t matter. He’s a great hitter, the best right now. He just hit that pitch really good.”
Prince Fielder hit a two-run double in the 14th inning as the Tigers won their 11th straight and beat the Indians for the 11th time in 12 games.
After the Tigers put two runners on against Bryan Shaw (2-3), Fielder lined his double off Marc Rzepczynski into the gap as the Tigers improved to 12-3 against their nearest division rival.
Jeremy Bonderman (2-3) pitched three innings in his first appearance for the Tigers since Oct. 1, 2010. Joaquin Benoit gave up a two-out RBI double to Michael Bourn and wild pitch before striking out Drew Stubbs with the tying run at third for his 14th save.
Detroit’s winning streak is its longest since winning 12 in a row in 2011, and the Tigers can match that run with a win on Thursday when Max Scherzer tries to become baseball’s first 17-game winner.
A four-game sweep of the Indians wouldn’t even be possible if not for Cabrera’s two-out homer — a shot the Indians may remember for months.
“If you strike Miguel Cabrera out three times, he’s not going to want a fourth,” Hunter said. “He’s going to make adjustments.”
Francona’s choice to let Salazar pitch to Cabrera backfired. The Indians wanted to see what the right-hander in heat of the playoff chase and he delivered an electrifying performance with one unforgiveable glitch, a fastball that Cabrera nearly hit onto East 9th Street.
After Cabrera rounded the bases, Francona went out and replaced Salazar, who received a thunderous ovation from appreciative Cleveland fans.
Francona said he never considered taking Salazar out.
“He was throwing about as well as you could,” Francona said. “That would have been his last hitter, but to that point I would have had a hard time justifying having him not pitch. That’s how good I thought he was. I think he just left one over the middle. He didn’t locate it.”
While Francona dismissed the idea of pulling Salazar, Hunter felt the kid may have overstayed his welcome.
“You can’t take anything away from Salazar,” Hunter said. “He pitched a great game. He had it under control until that last inning. They might have left him there a little too long.”
Regrouping after Cabrera’s dramatic shot, the Indians tied it 4-4 in the eighth on an RBI groundout by Gomes but Cleveland only managed one run and three hits over the final five innings.
Before Cabrera’s majestic, towering homer, Salazar had stifled the AL’s top hitting team and showed poise beyond his years.
With Corey Kluber out for at least one month — and possibly longer — with a sprained right middle finger, Salazar will fill the vacant spot in Cleveland’s rotation.
He may stay there for a while.
The Indians pushed back Ubaldo Jimenez so Salazar could face the Tigers, who were wary of his velocity and their lack of exposure to him.
“That kid was really something special,” Leyland said. “It’s not very often that I’m in the dugout saying, holy crap. But tonight, that was impressive. Man, he was throwing easy 98, 99, easy. That was pretty nasty.”
Salazar gave up a run in the second, but settled in and retired nine in a row before Jackson led off the sixth with his eighth homer to tie it 2-2. Salazar, though, was unfazed. He retired Hunter on a groundout, struck out Cabrera for the third time — on a 100 mph fastball — and popped up Fielder.
Salazar was in trouble in the seventh, and again showed composure, stranding a runner at third.
After his dazzling debut on July 11, when he took a no-hitter into the sixth against Toronto, the Indians were convinced Salazar was ready for a bigger test, and there’s few bigger than the Tigers.
If the kid was nervous, he certainly didn’t show it.
“He says the one place in the world he’s most relaxed is on the mound,” Francona said, “and that’s what it looks like.”
NOTES: The Indians have lost four straight series to the Tigers. … Salazar’s 17 strikeouts in his first two starts are the most by a Cleveland rookie since Luis Tiant also fanned 17 in 1964. … Cleveland’s six-game deficit is its largest this season. … The Indians signed utilityman Ryan Raburn to a two-year, $4.85 million contract with a team option in 2016. Raburn could have tested the free agent market after this season, but the Indians locked him and may approach others for new deals, including starter Scott Kazmir.
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