"We've got to do it again," first baseman Nick Swisher said.
In the wake of Tuesday's 5-1 loss to the Tigers, the Tribe is looking for a way to get back on its feet. Detroit's dominance over Cleveland this season continued courtesy of a stellar outing from ace Justin Verlander and outfielder Don Kelly's unexplainable ownership of Indians starter Justin Masterson.
The defeat dropped the Indians five games behind the first-place Tigers in the American League Central and extended Detroit's winning streak to 10 games. Now, instead of using this four-game series as an opportunity to steal the top seed from the Tigers' grasp, the Indians can only hope for a series split with two games left to play.
On the season, Cleveland has just three wins in 14 meetings with Detroit.
"These guys have put it on us pretty good," Swisher said. "We need to get them a couple times."
Kelly provided the fatal blow.
"He's definitely been a thorn in our side," manager Terry Francona said.
The average baseball fan might not know much about Kelly. Around Cleveland, though, children who dare utter his name risk being sent to their rooms without supper. Facing Masterson, Kelly cursed the Indians once again, launching a critical three-run homer in a game-changing fifth inning.
Kelly entered the evening with a .232 average over the course of his career in the big leagues, but the light-hitting left fielder has feasted on Masterson. The latest example came on Tuesday, when Kelly improved his career mark against Masterson to .458 with two homers, eight RBIs and no strikeouts.
Masterson had no way of explaining Kelly's success.
"He loves facing me," Masterson said. "If I was Superman, he'd be my kryptonite. Especially this year, with a couple of homers. I guess there's always a guy. He salivates when I get up there."
Kelly singled twice within the first four innings, but Masterson minimized the damage through that stretch. That included an impressive escape act in the second inning, when the Tigers loaded the bases with no outs. Masterson used a pair of strikeouts and an inning-ending groundout off the bat of Ramon Santiago to escape unscathed.
Masterson's nightmare began in the fifth.
The chain of events began innocently enough, with Santiago squaring around for a bunt attempt. Masterson yanked a slider too far inside, and it struck Santiago in the left knee. Austin Jackson followed with a single and Torii Hunter sent Santiago home with a fielder's-choice groundout, pulling the game into a 1-1 deadlock.
Detroit pushed ahead, 2-1, when slugger Miguel Cabrera launched a pitch from Masterson to deep center field and off the wall for a run-scoring double. Two batters later, Masterson's slider -- such an overpowering pitch all season long -- betrayed him again. This time it darted down and in on Victor Martinez, who took a painful blow to the right foot.
"Hitting those two guys on some sliders," Masterson said, "really yanking them, taking them over there, that was probably the thing I was most upset about."
Martinez dropped to the ground and winced in pain while Masterson headed back up the hill to await an ill-fated meeting with his Tigers nemesis.
Kelly pulled a 93-mph fastball, sending it arcing high over right field and into the seats for a three-run homer. Masterson did not flinch following that blast, giving Cleveland seven innings, with six strikeouts and two walks.
The four-run lead that Kelly provided, however, proved damaging enough and sufficient for Verlander.
"We get to Kelly, and he hits the home run," Francona said. "That kind of spread the game out a little bit. Other than that, Masty was really good. But you give them an opening, that's what they can do."
Verlander cruised through eight innings, ending with seven strikeouts and no walks, his lone blemish coming in the second inning. Michael Brantley reached with a single and eventually scored on a groundout from Ryan Raburn, putting the Tribe ahead, 1-0.
That is where Cleveland's push ended.
The Tribe threatened for a moment in the sixth inning after Yan Gomes was hit by a pitch from Verlander and Michael Bourn followed with a single. Detroit's ace locked in and -- even after Bourn stole second base -- set down the next three hitters in order to halt Cleveland's rally.
"Every game's a big game, but especially against the guys that are chasing us," Verlander said. "They've been playing extremely well; so have we. We know it's going to be a battle this series and it's not over with, but obviously getting off and winning the first two is a great start. You can't ask for a better start than that."
Swisher passed up the opportunity to praise Verlander's performance.
"I don't necessarily think it's who we're facing," Swisher said. "We're just not getting the job done -- that's it. So regardless of whoever is on the mound, we've got to find a way to get the job done."
Masterson said it's important for the Indians to focus on the big picture beyond just the games against Detroit.
"We've got two more against these guys, but we've got another 50 games left," Masterson said. "Yeah, we want to win these games, and we're definitely going to come out and hopefully split the series, but the main factor is going to be, as we continue on with the season, winning games we're supposed to.
"If we can't do that, there's no point even if we beat Detroit. That's kind of the main factor."