CLEVELAND (AP) — C.C. Sabathia upgraded his Cy Young resume and Cleveland finished declawing the Detroit Tigers with a 4-2 win on Wednesday that completed a three-game sweep and reduced the Indians' magic number for clinching the AL Central to three.
When Cleveland, which hasn't made the playoffs since 2001, was in the midst of its worst stretch of the season in early August, Sabathia (18-7) boldly predicted the Indians would win the division anyway.
Looks like the big lefty was right.
Casey Blake homered off Nate Robertson (8-12) as the Indians improved to 20-5 since Aug. 25 and moved into a temporary tie with the Boston Red Sox for the majors' best record.
In winning three straight over the Tigers, Cleveland opened a 7½-game lead over the defending AL champs, who led in every game of the series but couldn't put the Indians away.
This was not the sweep Detroit had in mind. The Tigers fell five games back in the wild-card race behind the New York Yankees, who played Wednesday night.
Rafael Betancourt, an emerging star in Cleveland's bullpen, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and Joe Borowski pitched the ninth for his league-leading 42nd save — and biggest one to date.
Sabathia, who went 17-5 as a rookie in '01, set a career-high for wins by allowing two runs and five hits in seven innings. The 27-year-old gave up both runs in the third, but settled down and retired 12 of the last 13.
Sabathia's case to become Cleveland's first Cy Young Award winner since Gaylord Perry in 1972, is a strong one. He leads the majors in innings pitched and is ranked at the top — or near it — in virtually every category among AL pitchers.
But his 99th career win put the Indians at the brink of playing meaningful games in October, something the 6-foot-7 Sabathia has often said is much more important to him than winning individual awards.
Just as they did in the first two games, the Indians fell behind before rallying.
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth, Cleveland scored three runs off Robertson, who gave up four runs in seven innings.
With one out, Blake walked and stole second. Franklin Gutierrez followed with an RBI double and scored when Jason Michaels dropped a double into left. Robertson hit Grady Sizemore with a pitch and rookie Asdrubal Cabrera, arguably Cleveland's second-half MVP, hit a run-scoring single to make it 4-2.
Blake, whose two walk-off homers in the past week helped the Indians open some distance on the Tigers, connected for his 18th homer — and sixth career shot off Robertson — in the third to make it 2-1.
Sabathia, who before allowing four runs in his previous start had gone 10 straight outings without giving up more than two runs, fell behind 2-0 in third.
Mike Hessman singled leading off and Ramon Santiago doubled with one out. Ryan Raburn, starting in center field because of Curtis Granderson's .157 average against lefties, followed with a two-run single.
The Tigers were quiet until the eighth when they loaded the bases on a walk and two singles. But Betancourt got Marcus Thames to fly to left with two outs. Thames had been 4-for-4 with two grand slams and 13 RBIs this season with the bases full.