CLEVELAND (AP) - Another game slipped away from the Cleveland Indians. The whole series did, in fact.
Rather than move closer to Detroit, the Indians were swept by the AL Central leaders this week.
Justin Verlander won his 10th straight start and earned his 22nd victory overall, helped when Victor Martinez hit a late grand slam that sent the Tigers over Cleveland 8-6 Wednesday.
Three straight losses left the Indians 9 1/2 games behind Detroit.
``We just got swept,' said first baseman Shelley Duncan, who hit a pair of two-run homers off Verlander. ``We're a little down right now.'
It's easy to see why. In less than three weeks, Cleveland has lost eight games in the standings to Detroit, taking the Indians from legitimate contenders to playing for pride in the season's final 22 games.
``They took care of business and, obviously, we didn't,' Indians manager Manny Acta said. ``They're doing a great job running away from us and beating us head to head.'
Verlander (22-5) survived Duncan's homers, which each gave the Indians a two-run leads. Martinez, who haunted his team the entire series, hit a seventh-inning slam off Tony Sipp that erased Cleveland's 4-3 lead and capped Detroit's five-run rally.
The loss dropped the Indians back to .500 (70-70) as they begin a 10-game road trip Thursday night in Chicago.
``We lost all three games, that's never fun no matter who you're playing,' Indians starter Justin Masterson said. ``We're going to have to win a lot of ballgames.'
Said Acta: ``We can't give up. Things can change in a week, but you have to start with Day One.'
The Indians managed to stay in contention despite going extended periods without several key players, including regulars Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley, Travis Hafner and Jason Kipnis, as well as starting pitchers Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco.
``These guys have come back from everything,' Acta said. ``If we don't win (Thursday), it's not because this series is lingering. They've gone through worse and they have bounced back.'
The Tigers are 16-4 since Aug. 19 and have beaten the Indians seven straight times. Detroit swept three games from the Chicago White Sox prior to this series to take command of the division, but Detroit manager Jim Leyland isn't ready to declare his team champions.
``So far, we've met a head-on challenge pretty good,' he said. ``I'm still not going to say anything other than we have put ourselves in good position. Have we accomplished something? Absolutely.'
Masterson (11-9) left after Detroit loaded the bases on two singles around an error in the seventh. Joe Smith came on and gave up an RBI single to Miguel Cabrera that got the Tigers within 4-3.
Sipp replaced Smith and the switch-hitting Martinez turned around to the right side and hit the first pitch into the left-field seats for his second career slam, both against the Indians. The first was Oct. 3, 2009, for Boston, a couple of months after Cleveland traded him to the Red Sox.
``That pitch was middle-in,' Acta said. ``It wasn't supposed to be there.'
Martinez went 5 for 13 with two homers and 10 RBIs in the series.
Duncan had his second two-homer game of the week and fourth of his career. He also did it Sunday in Kansas City.
He came in just 2 for 11 (.182) with four strikeouts in his career against Verlander before connecting in the second for a 2-0 lead. The two runs were more than the Indians scored in seven of Masterson's starts this year. His two-run homer in the fourth put Cleveland ahead 4-2.
``He's been the best pitcher in the league this season,' Duncan said of Verlander. ``I've seen him enough to understand how he pitches and what he does.'
Verlander leads the majors in wins and is 20-2 since May 1. He gave up four runs and three hits in six innings, striking out eight.
Jose Valverde pitched a perfect ninth for his 42nd save, tying the team record sent by Todd Jones in 2000. Valverde has not blown a save this year.
NOTES: Fans sitting in a dreary drizzle throughout the game got a few laughs in the middle innings as a squirrel darted around the outfield. ... Hafner, out since Aug. 22 with a strained tendon in his right foot, ran in the outfield before the game. ``Just straight ahead, nothing lateral, but I'm feeling better,' he said. ... The Indians start a four-game set in Chicago on Thursday in a chase for second place. LHP David Huff (2-3) will oppose White Sox RHP Gavin Floyd (12-10).
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved