CLEVELAND — It was a long and agonizing march to defeat for the Indians at Progressive Field on Wednesday.
Cleveland got another quality effort from prized pitching prospect Danny Salazar, some timely hitting and a stifling performance from nearly every member of its bullpen, yet still couldn’t beat the Tigers.
And the Indians got 14 innings to try.
First-place Detroit continued its dominance over Cleveland, winning 6-5 to up its season record to 12-3 over the Indians, who have dropped eight of nine games at home to the two-time defending Central Division champions.
Both of the Tigers’ big guns — Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder — not surprisingly figured in Detroit’s 11th straight victory. Cabrera hit a two-run home run off Salazar in the eighth inning to put the Tigers ahead 4-3 and Fielder won it with a two-run double off reliever Marc Rzepczynski in the 14th.
“There were a lot of good things that happened,” said Indians manager Terry Francona after the Indians fell six games behind the Tigers in the Central standings, with Detroit going for the four-game sweep tonight. “But against a good team like that, you almost have to execute perfectly.”
Cleveland was close to perfection for much of the night, with Salazar keeping the Indians in the game by holding a vaunted Tigers lineup to just two runs over seven innings.
Salazar was still throwing in the high-90 mph range and appeared to be in control when Francona sent him out for the eighth inning, but the move backfired on the veteran manager.
Salazar retired the first two hitters he faced before allowing a base hit to Torii Hunter. His first-pitch fastball to Cabrera found too much of the plate and Detroit’s third baseman hammered it an estimated 449 feet over the wall in center field.
“He was throwing about as well as you could,” Francona said of Salazar. “That would have been his last hitter, but to that point, I would have had a tough time justifying taking him out. I just think he left it over the middle.”
Up to that point, Salazar had handled Cabrera and Fielder well, with the pair going a combined 0-for-6 off him in the first six at-bats — Cabrera striking out three times.
Salazar used his fastball to get Cabrera swinging in his two trips just prior to the eighth inning and went to it again with unfavorable results this time around.
“I got him a couple times with my fastball. I wanted to try it again, but I left it over the middle,” Salazar said. “If you throw inside or outside, it doesn’t matter. He’s a great hitter, the best right now.”
Salazar wound up allowing four runs on seven hits, while striking out 10 over 7⅔ innings. The 10 strikeouts were the most by a Cleveland rookie since Kaz Tadano struck out 10 at Cincinnati in 2004.
“Besides a couple mistakes, I thought he was tremendous,” Francona said. “He had poise, competitiveness. I wish I could sit here after a win, but that doesn’t change how we feel about him.
“He says the one place in the world he feels most relaxed is on the mound and it looked like it.”
The Indians entered the night trailing Texas and Tampa Bay by 1½ games in the wild-card race.
It was the longest game of the season for the Indians — by innings and time (4 hours and 47 minutes).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.