DETROIT -- The Indians clinched their first American League Central title since 2007 at the ballpark that housed four of the previous five division crowns. In the process, their 7-4 win over the Tigers made Detroit's postseason pursuit much tougher.
Though Corey Kluber lasted just four innings before leaving with right groin tightness, adding to Cleveland's rotation injuries, Coco Crisp's two-run home run in the second inning and Roberto Perez's solo shot in the seventh helped power the Indians to their 14th win in 16 games against the Tigers this season, eliminating Detroit from the division race. Cleveland clinched its eighth title since divisional play began in 1969, and its second playoff berth in four years under manager Terry Francona.
"It never gets old," said Francona. "I want them to blow it out. It is so hard to get to do one of these things that I want them to enjoy every minute of it. I want them to celebrate, because I'm so proud of them and what they've done.
"There's a lot that goes into trying to even just win a division, and certainly the season's not over, but they deserve every minute of joy they have in there."
Indians owner Paul Dolan smiled when asked about all the adversity his team has overcome this season.
"We're division champs right now," Dolan said. "With some time to get rested, hopefully we'll do some healing and get ready for the playoffs."
The Tigers, meanwhile, suffered their third straight loss to fall two games behind the idle Orioles for the second AL Wild Card spot with six games to play. Baltimore begins a three-game series Tuesday at Toronto, the AL's other current Wild Card holder.
"Let's see what happens," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "We're going to play the games … regardless of what people think the odds are. We're going to come here and try to win tomorrow."
J.D. Martinez's two-run homer accounted for all the scoring off Kluber, who gave up five hits with a walk and three strikeouts. Though Miguel Cabrera hit a pair of RBI singles off Dan Otero and Andrew Miller, the Tribe bullpen picked up the slack from a short start against Detroit for the second time in nine days.
"We wanted to clinch at home," Indians outfielder Rajai Davis said. "Unfortunately, that didn't happen. So, as fate would have it, we clinched here and it's just nice to be in the position."
Tigers spot starter Buck Farmer gave up Crisp's 13th home run of the season as well as two runs in the fifth, but it was Perez's homer off Justin Wilson that loomed large. Perez added an RBI single in the eighth off Alex Wilson.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Bullpen picks up Kluber: Cleveland's relief corps shortens up games for the Tribe, but an unexpected four-inning effort from Kluber presented a tough test with the division title in reach. Otero and Bryan Shaw allowed two runs combined, but their 2 1/3 innings helped bridge the gap to the back-end duo of Miller and Cody Allen to finish the job. More >
"He's good, but he has a groin thing that he's fighting," Francona said of Kluber. "It started getting him in the third and again in the fourth, so I grabbed him. I told him we need to find a way to win a game, but we aren't going far without him, so we need to get him healthy and let him do what he does."
Just Delivering: Minutes after the Indians took the lead on Crisp's two-run homer, Martinez answered with one of his own, going to the opposite field with an elevated sinker from Kluber on an 0-2 pitch. Martinez's 22nd home run of the season was his second lifetime off Kluber, and his third ever off an 0-2 offering.
"We were right there," Martinez said. "We were one run away. But they answered back. They were able to score runs late in the game and we weren't."
Perez buys insurance: The Tigers turned to Justin Wilson for the seventh inning and Perez greeted the reliever with a leadoff home run to right-center field. That pushed Cleveland in front, 5-3, providing an important insurance run for the bullpen. Perez's homer (his third of the year) had an exit velocity of 101 mph and traveled a projected 371 feet, per Statcast™. Detroit got a run back in the home half, but Perez then delivered an RBI single to ignite a two-run eighth.
"He did a great job. We got contributions all over," Francona said. "Coco had that big homer. It just felt good to score. I don't know about the players, but I was nervous."
Tigers threaten, do not score: As much success as Kluber has enjoyed against the Tigers this season, Detroit had a chance to score more than two runs off him Monday, loading the bases with one out in the fourth inning. James McCann flew out to shallow center field, then Jose Iglesias hit a grounder that Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis ran down behind first base for the third out. Two innings later, with runners at the corners, Iglesias fouled off six pitches before Shaw spotted a called third strike on the inside corner.
"Those are situations where we can't afford to not put somebody across the plate there, not this late in the season," Martinez said. "We have to find a way to come through and bloop a hit, bleed it, do something. But we have to find a way to just get it done. This is crunch time."
"Just watching them out there, I remember thinking that should be us. … Not discrediting them at all, because they've had an amazing season, but it could've been us. At the end of the day, it's come down to them pretty much beating us, straight up." -- Martinez, on watching the Indians celebrate on field
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Rookie Mike Clevinger (2-2, 4.65 ERA) is slated to take the ball for the Tribe in a 7:10 p.m. ET clash with the Tigers on Tuesday at Comerica Park. Clevinger has posted a 2.55 ERA with 18 strikeouts and a .175 opponents' average in his past six games (17 2/3 innings). The righty has been building up as a starter again.
Tigers: Ten days after his no-decision in a 1-0 loss at Cleveland, Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.21 ERA) gets his chance at revenge when he takes the mound Tuesday. Verlander pitched seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball Sept. 17 at Progressive Field, but the Tigers couldn't score a run for him off the Indians' bullpen after Carlos Carrasco was knocked out of the game with an injury in the opening inning.