CLEVELAND - Sliding on his belly, Curtis Granderson's only concern was showing the umpires that the ball had fallen into his outstretched glove before denting a blade of outfield grass.
"I knew it was real close," he said.
Just like the AL Central.
Granderson's diving grab in the eighth inning kept it tied and Magglio Ordonez hit a three-run homer in Detroit's four-run 10th inning as the Tigers moved one game ahead of Cleveland in the up-for-grabs division with a 6-2 win over the Indians last night.
For at least another 24 hours or so, the Tigers, who have been staggering around for weeks, are on top by themselves.
"Don't get excited about the showdown," Detroit manager Jim Leyland warned. "It's only August 14th. I'm not jumping up and down. If we lose tomorrow, we'll be right back where we started."
Ordonez's 22nd homer, a shot to left off Joe Borowski (2-5), broke it open for the Tigers, who began the two-game series missing two regulars because of the flu and had been playing lately as if their whole roster had come down with something.
Granderson, who wasn't in Leyland's original lineup, saved the Tigers with a catch that could become more memorable as the season progresses.
With the score 2-2, two runners on and two outs, Cleveland's Travis Hafner, back after missing four games because of a sore knee, hit a soft liner toward the gap in left-center that looked like it would drop in for an RBI single.
But Granderson sprinted over and snatched the ball backhanded just above the ground with a head-first dive. As Granderson popped up, reliever Tim
Byrdak raised his arms in triumph like a boxer who had just scored a late-round knockout.
"A lot of center fielders get talked about more, but he's one of the best," starter Jeremy Bonderman said. "He's the next up-and-coming thing."
Granderson, who had struck out three times against Indians starter C.C. Sabathia, walked to open the 10th and went to third on Ryan Raburn's bloop single. Gary Sheffield's RBI single gave Detroit a 3-2 lead.
Indians pitching coach Carl Willis made a quick visit to settle down Borowski. The right-hander made a mistake anyway as Ordonez ripped his first pitch over the wall in left to make it 6-2.
Fernando Rodney (2-5) struck out the side in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double, and Todd Jones worked the 10th.
For several weeks, the Tigers have looked nothing like defending AL champions. Since the All-Star break, they're just 14-19. The Indians, though, have been worse, going 13-18 with an offense that can't hit.
Afterward, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge blasted his team.
"These guys have to dig deep," he said. "We're going to find how tough they are. It's easy to be tough when you're winning. When you're going good, you're going to get cheered. When you're going bad, you're going to get booed.
"That's where toughness comes in. We've got a couple of people who might be feeling sorry for themselves. I don't like that."
Wedge singled out Granderson's catch as an example of what the Indians need to be doing more of.
"They made the play," he said. "In these types of games at this time of year, you make the plays, you win."
Grady Sizemore hit a two-run homer for the Indians, who went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Cleveland, which started the season 33-13 at home, has lost 13 of its last 17 at Jacobs Field.
The Tigers, who will play their next 12 games against the Indians (4) and the New York Yankees (8), played perhaps their biggest game this season without second baseman Placido Polanco and outfielder Craig Monroe. Both came down with the flu, forcing Leyland to rearrange his lineup.
Wedge also adjusted his batting order, which could be described as sickly of late.
Kenny Lofton moved into the leadoff spot and Sizemore was dropped to third. But the change had little effect as the Indians got just six hits, and never strung two in a row together.
"That says it all right there," Wedge said.
NOTES: Sizemore's 20th homer made him the fourth Cleveland player to have that many homers and 25 steals in the same season, joining Joe Carter (1986-88), Roberto Alomar (1999, 2001) and Bobby Bonds (1979). ... The Tigers optioned RHP Yorman Bazardo to Toledo to make room for Jair Jurrjens, who will make his first major league start on Wednesday. ... Despite being outspoken and critical of Yankees manager Joe Torre and former teammate Derek Jeter, Sheffield isn't fearing a negative reaction when he returns to New York later this week. "I know what kind of appreciation I get," said Sheffield, who spent three seasons with the Yankees before being traded. "Most people I bump into haven't forgotten what I've done. Sheff fans will be Sheff fans. That's how I look at it going in." ... The Tigers and first-round draft pick Rick Porcello reached agreement on a four-year contract worth $7.28 million. The 6-foot-5 righthander from New Jersey pitched for the nation's top-ranked high school team and was among the most touted prospects in the country. ... Wedge said he never considered benching Jhonny Peralta for his baserunning blunder in Sunday's loss to the New York Yankees. Down 4-0, the Indians loaded the bases in the seventh inning with nobody out, but Peralta was picked off first by starter Andy Pettitte. The out sabotaged a potential big inning for the Indians. Wedge bristled at the idea of yanking Peralta. "Why would you do that?" he said. "To prove what? That's not the way I operate and that's not the way anybody with any feel for the game should operate."
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