Avila homers off Ubaldo in losing effort

Avila homers off Ubaldo in losing effort

Avila homers off Ubaldo in losing effort
CLEVELAND -- Say what you will about the Tigers' first eight innings Tuesday night against the Indians, from Ubaldo Jimenez's scattered walks, to the Indians' baserunning that led to a comeback rally. In the end, the Tigers had the situation they wanted in the ninth.

They had Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder stepping to the plate as the potential go-ahead run against Indians closer Chris Perez, who was starting to hear a smattering of the same boos that led him to speak out over the weekend. He said then that he wanted this situation, and he got it.

In the end, Perez made the pitches to strike out Cabrera, induce a Fielder groundout, seal a 5-3 Detroit loss and send the Tigers four games back in the American League Central. With that, the Tigers' 10-game winning streak against the Tribe was over.

"Yeah, we're for real," Perez told reporters. "It's not a fluke. The team over there wants to win just as bad as we do, and we're coming out on top more times than not. It's been said a couple times, but we're not playing our best ball yet."

Detroit certainly knows the feeling about the last part.

"I don't think it's necessarily a 'funk' funk," manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought we hit the ball better tonight. ... We didn't have some balls fall in tonight, and we just didn't do enough offensively. But I don't think anybody played a bad ballgame."

The Tigers got the three-run homer they're built around, but Alex Avila's first home run since May 4 was all they ended up getting. It wasn't enough because, as Leyland put it, "They just kept nickel-and-diming Ricky [Porcello]. "

The season's first matchup of last year's primary AL Central combatants looked a little like their first series last season, a three-game set the Indians swept in close games. Instead of beating the Tigers' bullpen this time, however, the Tribe picked away at Porcello with help from taking extra bases until a two-run sixth pulled Cleveland ahead for good.

Porcello (3-4) hadn't struck out more than four batters in a game since last July, yet used power fastballs and changeups effectively enough to fan six Indians over 5 1/3 innings Tuesday. His downfall was the efficiency with which the Tribe turned leadoff runners into runs.

"He did something different against us today that he hadn't done in the past: He threw a lot of four-seam fastballs," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "I mean, he was throwing harder than in the past because of that. Instead of just going through his two-seam and sinking the ball a lot, he was going inside with 93, 94, and he hit 95 a couple of times, too. He did a good job."

That appeared to be part of the game plan, though maybe not to that extent. Some of those fastballs turned into timely hits.

"His game plan was good," Leyland said. "He probably tried to over-execute."

Two stolen bases in as many attempts from leadoff batters put the Indians into position to score on the next base hit, including Michael Brantley on his go-ahead tally after a leadoff single in the sixth.

Add the eight hits and five runs, four earned, to Porcello's previous two starts, and the 23-year-old right-hander has allowed 15 runs, 10 earned, on 23 hits over 14 1/3 innings since tossing back-to-back gems in the first week of May.

With one more rally from the Tigers' offense, they might have been able to overcome it. Avila's 406-foot drive just over the center-field fence, his first homer at Progressive Field, put Detroit in front in the second inning, but they couldn't add on. Jimenez (5-3) walked at least one batter in each inning after that, two in the third, and six on the night, but stranded them all.

Jimenez had suffered three of those 10 straight Indians losses to the Tigers down the stretch after his trade from Colorado. He nearly watched it go away.

Brennan Boesch's throw home to nail Asbrubal Cabrera at the plate kept it a two-run game after eight innings, giving Perez no margin for a mistake once Ramon Santiago drew a one-out walk in the ninth. Andy Dirks' ensuing single meant Cabrera stepped to the plate with a chance to power Detroit ahead.

Cabrera had walked three straight times, but had been retired twice from there. Perez, as forecast, went after him. Cabrera fouled off back-to-back fastballs before Perez spotted a 95-mph heater on the outside corner for a called third strike.

"We really couldn't have gotten into a much better situation," Leyland said. "The guy made a nasty pitch on Cabrera, a nasty pitch."

Up followed Fielder with the same opportunity. Once Perez fell behind on a 3-0 count, he had to debate whether to walk Fielder and move the tying run to second base, or attack one of the game's best power hitters.

He got strike one, then attacked him. Fielder hit it hard, but at third baseman Jose Lopez, who started a game-ending fielder's choice.

"If he gets it up in the air, who knows? He got a heck of a swing at it," Leyland said.

"There was no GPS on it. It's unfortunate," said Fielder. "You wish there was a way to change it, but when you do that, you start making the game a little more difficult when it's really not that tough."

It seems tough for the Tigers right now.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.