CLEVELAND - Alex Avila almost reached the left field bleachers in his first at bat. He did reach those bleachers in his last at bat, and it was the difference in the game as the Detroit Tigers stunned the Cleveland Indians with a four-run ninth inning and a 4-2 victory Monday night.
"It was a terrific game," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. "Both starting pitchers pitched terrific. We had some hits but we couldn't do much with them until the end there where we got some big ones and held on."
It's Detroit's ninth win in a row as the first place Tigers extended their lead over second-place Cleveland to four games.
Avila's three-run home run capped Detroit's four-run ninth against Cleveland closer Chris Perez, who entered the game with a 2-0 lead, faced four batters and didn't retire any of them.
It was a crushing loss for the Indians, who got an outstanding start from starter Corey Kluber, and made several terrific defensive plays.
"This was a tough one. One of our toughest losses of the year," said Indians center fielder Michael Bourn.
The Indians got to within three outs of their major-league-leading 16th shutout of the season, but Perez, in his third blown save in 20 chances, gave up a double to Prince Fielder leading off the ninth inning.
Victor Martinez followed with a single to left, scoring Fielder and cutting the Cleveland lead to 2-1. Andy Dirks drew a walk, and Avila pounded a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left-center field for his ninth home run, giving Detroit a 4-2 lead.
"Like most guys (Perez) is a two-pitch guy, fastball and slider, " said Avila. "He was struggling with his command a little bit."
In his first at bat of the game, in the second inning, Avila nearly hit one out to the same part of the ballpark, but it was caught in front of the wall by Bourn, after a long run.
"When Avila hit the first one to the wall I said to (third base coach Brad Mills), 'When he hits the ball that way he makes me nervous,'" said Indians manager Terry Francona. "Then he did it again in the ninth."
The win went to reliever Al Alburquerque (2-2). Perez's record fell to 4-2. Joaquin Benoit pitched the ninth for the Tigers and picked up his 13th save.
Prior to the ninth inning Kluber and Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez spent most of the game locked in a tense pitcher's duel.
Kluber pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings, giving up five hits, with six strikeouts and one walk.
"We couldn't get much going, but you have to credit Kluber for that. We caught a couple of breaks there at the end and took advantage of them," said Leyland.
"I thought I was pretty solid," said Kluber. "I was able to keep them off balance and the guys made some great defensive plays behind me. They were amazing."
Sanchez came into the game with a record of 3-1 and a 1.76 ERA in five career starts against Cleveland. He pitched 7 2/3 innings, giving up four hits, with 11 strikeouts and two walks.
Cleveland took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Michael Brantley singled, stole second, then scored on a two-out single by Jason Giambi.
With two outs and nobody on in the Cleveland fourth, Brantley singled again and scored on a double off the right-field wall by Carlos Santana, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers had chances to score in each of the first two innings, but Kluber wiggled out of both jams. With a runner at second and two outs in the first, Kluber struck out Fielder to end that threat. In the second, the Tigers had runners at first and second with nobody out, but Kluber got outs from the next three batters, aided by outstanding defensive plays by Bourn and first baseman Nick Swisher.
Notes: Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta was not at Progressive Field Monday as he began serving his 50-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball. . . Prior to the game the Tigers recalled INF Hernan Perez from Class AA Erie, and they purchased the contract of RHP Jeremy Bonderman from Class AAA Toledo. . . Indians ace Justin Masterson, who will start Tuesday, has struggled vs. the Tigers this year, going 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in two starts. . . Giambi came into Monday's game with 35 home runs and 94 RBIs in 399 career at bats vs. Detroit.