The Indians were down, in danger and nearing doom.
They never buckled. They fought back.
“We’ve got that never-say-die attitude,” first baseman Nick Swisher said. “The good teams pick each other up, and the bad teams pick each other apart.”
Michael Brantley hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Al Alburquerque as Cleveland, which blew a big lead, ended a seven-game skid against Detroit with a 9-6 win Sunday to trim one game off the first-place Tigers’ lead in the AL Central.
Brantley, who hit a solo homer in the sixth and had a career-high five RBIs, drove a 3-1 pitch from Alburquerque (1-2) over the wall in right field as the Indians, a team capable of streaking in any direction at any time, recovered after their bullpen couldn’t protect a 6-1 lead against one of baseball’s best lineups.
Detroit, which overpowered Cleveland in winning the first two games of the four-game series, had rallied to tie it 6-all in the eighth on Torii Hunter’s three-run homer off Vinnie Pestano.
But the Indians didn’t quit. It’s not their style.
“The boys came out and punched back,” Pestano said. “They didn’t hang their heads. It’s the personality we’ve got. It’s the closeness of this group.”
Cody Allen (4-1) got one out in the eighth and closer Chris Perez, who recently came off the disabled list, gave up a single in the ninth before getting his ninth save — a save the Indians had to have.
“That one would have been a tough one to go home today if we had lost,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Detroit had its five-game winning streak snapped, and missed a chance to open a 41/2 game lead over the second-place Indians, who can split the series tonight and get back to where they were before it started — if they can beat unbeaten Max Scherzer (13-0).
Carlos Santana hit a two-run homer and Lonnie Chisenhall added a solo shot as the Indians beat the Tigers for just the fourth time in 15 games.
Hunter had four RBIs and Miguel Cabrera homered and had four hits for the Tigers, who took little solace in a comeback that came up a little short.
“We were able to tie the game and give ourselves a chance, but at the same time we lost,” Hunter said. “Wins, that’s all that matters. No matter what you do, late-inning production, I don’t give a doggone ... wins.”
Before Brantley’s shot, the Indians were in peril of losing a game that could have haunted them for months.
They had finally gone toe-to-toe with the All-Star loaded Tigers, who shut them out 7-0 on Friday and hammered them again 9-4 on Saturday. Cleveland built a 6-1 lead and got a quality start from Corey Kluber only to have its bullpen waste it.
Down five runs and unable to do much against Kluber, the Tigers stormed back by scoring twice in the seventh and tying it when Hunter, 0 for 7 with three strikeouts in his career against Pestano, drove a 2-1 pitch onto the pedestrian patio in left.
The shot drained the life from Indians fans, but pumped up Detroit rooters, who filled Progressive Field with chants of “Let’s Go Tigers!”
As the ball cleared the wall, Swisher had a moment of panic.
“I think we were all thinking, ‘Damn.’ But that’s baseball and that’s how it goes,” he said. “That’s a great lineup. How many guys do they have on the All-Star team?
“For us, we’re the underdogs, man. We got nothing to lose and if we go out there and play loose and play our type of baseball, stress-free, that’s our best way of playing.”