By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
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CLEVELAND: In addition to losing to the Detroit Tigers on Monday night, the Indians discovered they might have a closer problem.
In arguably the Tribe’s most important game of the season to date, Chris Perez failed to hold a 2-0 lead in the ninth, and the Tigers came away with a 4-2 win to expand their American League Central Division lead to four games and make it a little tougher for the Indians to catch them.
What should the Tribe do now?
“Go to sleep,” Michael Bourn said. “That’s the only thing you can do. Go to sleep and come back tomorrow.”
After Perez gave up a ground-rule double to Prince Fielder and an RBI single to Victor Martinez, Andy Dirks walked and Alex Avila hit his ninth home run of the season, a towering fly ball to left center to give the Tigers the lead, still with nobody out in the inning.
“The walk was as hurtful as anything in that inning,” manager Terry Francona said. “Avila hit a ball in the first inning the opposite way [to the track in center], and I said to [coach] Brad Mills in the ninth, ‘When he hits the ball that direction, he makes me nervous.’ ”
For those fans who wanted to see Perez come out of the game earlier, Francona said: “If you do that kind of thing, you’re going to create a revolving door, and it will be a mess. If I did that, I would have taken him out in Florida.”
Perez gave up three consecutive hits and a run in the ninth Saturday night, but Perez earned the save.
In an odd coincidence, exactly one year earlier, Perez failed to hold an 8-5 lead in Detroit, giving up five runs in the ninth to give the Tigers a 10-8 win. Until that game, Perez had earned a save in each of the eight games he pitched against the Tigers.
Every time that Corey Kluber has faced the Tigers, he has gotten more proficient.
Monday night, he held them scoreless for 7⅓ innings, allowing six hits and one walk, while striking out six. On July 7, he gave up two runs in 6⅓ innings; on May 21, he yielded three runs in 6⅓ innings; and on May 10, Kluber was stung for eight runs in 4⅔ innings.
“Hopefully, I can do that against every team, take away something from one game and into the next,” he said.
In none of these games has Kluber gotten a win.
The Tigers had chances to do serious damage to Kluber early in the game, but … they blew it.
In the first inning, Torii Hunter singled to left with one out and foolishly tested the accuracy of Michael Brantley’s arm. Brantley threw him out trying to stretch the hit into a double.
The next batter, Miguel Cabrera, went the opposite way, dumping a single inside the right field line, the ball rolling to the wall. Drew Stubbs had trouble picking it up and was charged with an error for allowing Cabrera to reach second. Had Hunter not been thrown out, would the Tigers have scored? Nobody will ever know.
In the second inning, Martinez blooped a single to center and Dirks drew a walk. Avila followed with a drive to the track in center. Bourn seemingly ran a half-marathon but somehow caught up with the ball, making a superlative catch.
Had the ball eluded Bourn — it would have escaped the grasp of most outfielders — the Tigers surely would have scored one run if not two.
So when Kluber credited his defense for saving the day, he wasn’t kidding.
“There were great plays from the first inning on,” he said. “It was amazing.”
Jason Kipnis delivered two outstanding plays at second base on ground balls well to his right. The second play occurred when Jose Iglesias led off the eighth. Instead of a man on first and nobody out, when Ramon Santiago got his second single of the night, there was one out.
That was important. Kluber made his exit and Joe Smith took over. Jackson beat out an infield hit to short to put runners on first and second. Hunter followed with a single to right, and the Tigers made their second costly base-running blunder of the night.
Unaccountably, instead of stopping at second, Jackson strayed almost halfway to third (where was he going to go with Santiago ahead of him?), from where he was easily caught in a rundown and tagged out to kill the threat.
Only 24,381 fans showed up, but the players treated the game like a postseason showdown.
“That was a playoff atmosphere tonight,” Bourn said. “Both teams came to play.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.