The Cleveland Indians would surely settle for their first division title in six years. Finishing with the majors’ best record would be a nice bonus.
The surging Indians hope to inch closer to the AL Central crown on Tuesday night when they continue a three-game home series against their closest pursuers - the Detroit Tigers.
With their division lead in danger of being cut to 3 1/2 games, the Indians rallied from a three-run deficit in the eighth for a 6-5, 11-inning victory in Monday’s series opener. Casey Blake drove a pitch from Zach Miner over the left-field wall for his second walkoff homer in four days.
“It’s probably the biggest game we’ve played all year,” said Blake, who felt winning the opener was imperative. “First, second, third. We need them all. But to lose the first one would have been tough. That’s why I was so fired up.”
Jhonny Peralta had his second two-homer game of the season for Cleveland (88-62), which is 5 1/2 games up on Detroit with 12 remaining. The Indians, winners of 18 of their last 23, also are 1 1/2 games behind Boston in the race for baseball’s best record.
Winning Monday means Cleveland is assured of having no worse than a 3 1/2-game division lead at the end of this series. The Indians have three home games left against Oakland before closing the regular season with four games at Seattle and three in Kansas City.
Placido Polanco homered and Ramon Santiago drove in two runs for the Tigers (83-68), who had their five-game winning streak snapped and dropped 3 1/2 games behind the wild card-leading New York Yankees.
“We still have 11 games left,” Miner said. “We were dead and buried five days ago and got five wins. We played good tonight and could have made it six.”
AL MVP candidate Magglio Ordonez recorded his 200th hit in the eighth inning, becoming the first Tigers player with that many since Alan Trammell had 205 in 1987. Ordonez leads the AL with a .357 batting average—four points better than Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki.
Detroit will have red-hot ace Justin Verlander (17-5, 3.47 ERA) on the mound Tuesday. The right-hander has been brilliant in his past four starts, allowing only three runs and 23 hits in 28 2-3 innings while walking six and striking out 26. He’s the first Detroit pitcher to win at least 17 games in back-to-back seasons since Jack Morris in 1986-87.
“It’s definitely special to have my name mixed in with his,” Verlander said. “But we’re in a playoff race right now, so I can’t think about personal accolades.”
Verlander limited Texas to one run and seven hits over seven innings Wednesday in a 5-1 victory, walking one and striking out seven.
Verlander is 1-2 with a 7.36 ERA in four starts this season against the Indians. He was tagged for seven runs and a season-high 10 hits in four innings of an 11-8 home loss on Aug. 22.
Victor Martinez is batting .286 (6-for-21) with three home runs against the right-hander.
Jake Westbrook (5-9, 4.38) hopes to record his first win in four starts for the Indians. Since beating Minnesota on Aug. 28, the right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.34 ERA in his last three outings. He gave up five runs and seven hits in six innings of a 7-4 road loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.
Westbrook wasn’t sharp in his first start this season against the Tigers, but pitched eight scoreless innings against them on Aug. 23, a game the Indians won 3-1 in 10 innings. He is 4-8 with a 6.53 ERA in 16 career starts versus Detroit.
Ordonez is 10-for-31 (.323) with three home runs off the right-hander.