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Tigers 5, Indians 4: Dramatic Alex Avila home run keeps Detroit in first place

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Alex Avila's full count, two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning gave the Tigers a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over the Tribe. Detroit remains in first place in the AL Central, leading Kansas City by a half-game.

Duane Burleson

Down a run to the Cleveland Indians and running out of chances and outs, Alex Avila's clutch two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning gave the Detroit Tigers a drama-filled 5-4 victory. The win allows the Tigers to maintain their half-game lead over the Kansas City Royals in the race for the AL Central title.

The Royals beat the Boston Red Sox 7-1, keeping pace with the surging Tigers, who have won five of their last six games.

In the wild card race, the Royals are currently tied with the badly slumping Oakland Athletics for the top wild card. The Seattle Mariners are looming a half-game back, ready to overtake the A's.

As expected, neither team's young starter was pitched deep into the game.

Detroit's starter was 25-year-old Kyle Lobstein. He has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers over the past few weeks, pitching into the sixth inning in his last three appearances, but tonight was a bit of a reality check. In his first start against the Tribe on September 2, Lobstein struck out 10, allowing two runs in 5 1/3 innings. Tonight was a different story. He did give the Tigers five innings, but the Tribe was able to barrel up on Lobstein several times. He ultimately allowed four runs on six hits, three for extra bases, walking one and striking out just two. Lobstein would exit the game down 4-3, but earn a no-decision thanks to Avila's heroics.

At 24 years of age, Danny Salazar is considered to be a building block for the Tribe's long-term future. His fastball was dominant at times for the Indians, hitting high-90s on the radar. Salazar would leave as the pitcher of record, pulled after 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits, walking one while striking out seven. Thanks to his bullpen, Salazar was hung with a no-decision.

The difference in the game were the bullpens. The Tigers got four shutout innings from a combination of Al Alburquerque, Joakim Soria, Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan. Chamberlain (W, 2-5) would earn the victory with Nathan recording the final three outs to earn his 31st save of the season.

The Indians used three relievers. Marc Rzepczynski walked the only batter he faced, but Scott Atchison would take over, holding the Tigers scoreless over 1 1/3 innings. The third and final reliever, Bryan Shaw (L, 5-4), was unable to maintain the one-run advantage. He gave up two runs on two hits in the eighth, serving up the hanging breaking ball that Avila took yard to win the game for Detroit.

The Tigers were outhit by the Tribe 8-to-9, but were carried to victory by the home run. Along with Avila's game-winner, his 11th of the season, Victor Martinez slugged a solo shot, his 31st home run, in the fourth. Ian Kinsler plated the Tigers' first run of the game with an RBI single, Torii Hunter chipping in a sacrifice fly. Nick Castellanos and Rajai Davis were the only Tigers with two hits on the night.

The Indians took an early lead when Tiger killer Michael Brantley drilled a two-run homer in the first inning, his 19th of the season. Mike Aviles doubled in two runs in the fifth, giving the Indians back the lead at 4-3. But that would be it for the Tribe offense, held scoreless over the final four innings by Detroit's bullpen.

Being that it was Star Wars night at Comerica, there's no more fitting way to sum up the Tigers' tense victory than to channel your inner Yoda.

ROARS:

Victor Martinez: Just one hit, but it was a big fly, number 31 on the season (MLB.com video). At this point, Victor should just be permanently added to BYB's recap template under "ROARS." He's now hitting .334 on the season, and .409 in September.

Rajai Davis: Two hits, a run scored and caught Tribe left fielder Michael Brantley napping in the seventh, tagging up and advancing to second on a medium depth can of corn.

The bullpen: Al Alburquerque and Joakim Soria were excellent in their scoreless outings, Alburquerque pitching the sixth, Soria the seventh. Joba Chamberlain struggled somewhat in the eighth, but was also victimized by some bad luck — see Carlos Santana's cue shot off the end of his bat for a two-out single and the 0-2 pitch called a ball to Yan Gomes. Helped by Torii Hunter's glove, Chamberlain would get out of the inning unscathed, keeping the Tigers within a run. Joe Nathan walked the leadoff man to start the ninth, but retired the next three batters to record his 31st save.

Alex Avila: Home runs don't get much more dramatic than a last at-bat, two out, full count, game-winner (MLB.com video).

HISSES:

Tigers' base-running: There's a fine line between being aggressive and overly-aggressive on the bases. Kinsler often LEAPS over that line. His latest base-running mistake was getting picked off first base despite nearly being picked off a few seconds earlier, knowing Danny Salazar was specifically trying to keep him close.

In the fifth, Castellanos made a rookie Little League mistake on base paths. He was on second base when Romine slapped a single to left. Unsure the ball would drop, the rookie retreated back to second instead of advancing halfway. By the time the ball dropped for a single, Castellanos had no chance of taking third.

Bunting in the third and fifth innings: Bottom of three, Nick Castellanos on first and no one out, Andrew Romine was asked to lay one down. He did so, but badly. Castellanos was easily forced at second. Someone needs to remind Brad Ausmus he's not playing in the National League anymore.

After Castellanos' silly base running blunder in the fifth, Brad Ausmus ordered Rajai Davis to bunt. He was able to move the runners over. But that extra out sure would have come in handy, as neither Ian Kinsler or Torii hunter could knock in the tying run, stranding two in scoring position. Kinsler did hit the ball on a line, but right at short. Hunter popped up on a 3-1 count, leaving Miguel Cabrera stuck on deck.

At-bats with RISP: The middle innings were as frustrating as they come for Detroit's offense. Runners on second and third with one out in the fifth, Kinsler and Hunter could not drive in the tying run. Two-on and two-out in the sixth, Castellanos struck out looking to end the threat. Heads-up base-running by Rajai Davis allowed him to advance to second with two-out in the seventh, but Hunter went down swinging on a pitch well out of the strike zone. Thank goodness for Alex Avila, who did come through with a runner in scoring position when the Tigers were running out of opportunities.

Fundamentals: The lack of them has been an issue all season. Along with his base-running gaffe in the fifth, Castellanos made a glaring defensive mistake in the eighth, thinking he had a force at third base despite there being runners on second and third. Luckily, the high chopper off the bat of Gomes was narrowly foul.

J.D. Martinez: He carried the offense Friday night, but was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts tonight.

NOTES:

It was Star Wars Night at Comerica Park tonight. Let the Joba — Jabba jokes commence!

Miguel Cabrera's ankle must be feeling better, as he was back at first base after spending his last four games as the Tigers' DH.

Kyle Lobstein's night started badly, serving up a lead-off double to Michael Bourn, followed by a one-out home run off the bat of Tiger Killer Michael Brantley. Three batters into the game, the Tigers were down 2-0.

Danny Salazar was dominant on the mound for the Indians over the first two innings, striking out 4-of-6 on high-90s heat. The Tigers adjusted in the third, scoring two runs on three hits, all singles. Ian Kinsler singled, driving in Andrew Romine with the Tigers' first run. Torii Hunter plated Rajai Davis with a sacrifice fly, knotting the game at 2-all.

Bottom of the fourth, Victor Martinez's amazing season remained so, drilling his 31st home run of the season over the right field wall. The big fly put the Tigers up on the Tribe, 3-2.

Ryan Raburn had been diving all over right field the last two games, to varying degrees of success. The flopping finally caught up with him, pulled after four innings tonight with a hyper-extended left knee.

After allowing a back-to-back one out singles in the fifth and the Tigers' bullpen in full boil, Lobstein was on the verge of pitching out of a two-on, two-out jam. He didn't, giving up the lead in the process. Mike Aviles reached out and slapped a two RBI into the right field corner, giving Cleveland a 4-3 advantage.

Hunter had a rough night at the plate, but his defense bailed Joba Chamberlain out of a jam in the eighth. Hunter saved two runs by sprinting into short right, making a marvelous diving grab of a bloop off the bat of Yan Gomes, ending the inning (MLB.com video).

Pinch-running for Cabrera, Ezequiel Carrera had a stolen base taken away from him in the eighth when Gomes was hit in the mask by Alex Avia's back swing while in the act of throwing. So he just stole second on the next pitch instead.

Carrera was able to jog around the bases from there. Avila has a penchant for clutch, late game home runs. He did it again in the eighth, taking Bryan Shaw's full count, two-out breaking ball over the right field wall, sending a sold out Comerica Park into hysterics.

STREAKS AND STATS:

Tribe left fielder Michael Brantley entered tonight's game 28-for-72 against the Tigers this season, hitting .394/.449/.592, a 1.040 OPS, two home runs, 13 RBI and four stolen bases. Brantley brought more pain tonight — 2-for-4, two RBI, and a run scored.

Via James Schmehl of Mlive: Ian Kinsler's RBI single in the third inning snapped Danny Salazar's string of 11 consecutive scoreless innings against the Tigers.

At the age of 35, Victor Martinez has 31 home runs, having long-passed his career high, and his total in his last two seasons combined (26). His previous career high in home runs was 25 in 2007, his age 28 season. His high as a Tiger before this year is 14, set last year.

Martinez's 31 home runs are tied with Tony Clark (1999) and Mickey Tettleton (1991) for the fifth-most by a switch-hitter in club history.

Martinez has a chance to set a personal RBI best as well, currently standing at 98. His career high is 114 RBI in 2007. Martinez's top RBI total in Detroit is 103, set in 2011.

Alex Avila was left in the game to face a lefty reliever in the sixth, drawing his 57th walk of the season. He's tied with Miguel Cabrera for second most on the team. Victor Martinez leads the team with 62 free passes.

Avila has 11 home runs this season. Five have come in the seventh inning or later and three have been against the Indians.

Kyle Lobstein is 1-0 in four starts. The Tigers have won all four.

WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:


Source: FanGraphs

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