Indians catcher Carlos Santana watches the flight of his game winning three-run walk off home run off Tigers relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit in the ninth inning.
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CLEVELAND — In 110 years, the Cleveland Indians have never enjoyed an April like this.
Their surprisingly good start took a new twist Friday night when Carlos Santana hit a grand slam with one out in the ninth inning to give the Indians a 9-5 win over the Detroit Tigers.
“Unbelievable,” said shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, whose two-run homer in the seventh tied it at 5 and put the Indians in position to extend their home winning streak to 11 games.
The Indians are an AL-best 17-8, surpassing 16 wins before May 1 for the first time in 111 years in the AL.
Santana and his teammates celebrated in rare fashion too, after the switch-hitter drove a 3-1 pitch off Joaquin Benoit (0-1) over the right-field wall.
Santana flung his batting helmet high into the chilly air before leaping onto home plate and being engulfed by teammates, who could hardly wait for him to round the bases.
“I’m very excited,” Santana said after his first career slam — the seventh to end a game at Progressive Field and first since Jim Thome did it against Detroit in 2002.
Chris Perez (1-1) pitched one perfect inning for Cleveland’s fourth straight win. The Indians are unbeaten at home since April 2 — their longest streak there since winning 13 in a row in 1996.
“These guys are pulling for each other, everybody is contributing,” manager Manny Acta said. “I don’t remember the last time we scored against Benoit, but we did.”
Benoit took the Tigers’ fourth straight loss hard. Standing and staring at his locker, he turned to reporters and said, “Are you guys waiting for me? Keep waiting.” He then walked away.
The Indians walked off with the improbable win after overcoming deficits of 3-0 and 5-2.
Jack Hannahan singled to start the winning rally and was replaced by pinch-runner Adam Everett. Grady Sizemore’s line single to right sent Everett to third. During the at bat, Tigers manager Jim Leyland visited the mound to check on Benoit, who had a broken fingernail on his pitching hand clipped off by trainer Kevin Rand.
Benoit intentionally walked Cabrera and came back to strike out Shin-Soo Choo on three pitches before Santana delivered.
“I’m so happy for him because he’s been struggling a bit,” Cabrera said of Santana, who came to the plate hitting .183.
Matt LaPorta hit a solo homer off Tigers starter Max Scherzer to start the seventh. Later in the inning, Cabrera drove his two-run shot into the right-field seats on the first pitch after Leyland checked on Scherzer.
“He said he had plenty left,” Leyland said. “I wanted to make sure he was all right. He’s one of my horses. He deserved to be out there. The guy hit a home run.
“They’re playing with a lot of energy right now. They’re having a lot of fun. To their credit, you tip your cap to them.”
Scherzer, seeking to become Detroit’s first pitcher with five wins in April since Frank Tanana in 1988, had a two-hit shutout until two outs in the sixth.
Cabrera then singled, and walks to Choo and Santana loaded the bases. Shelley Duncan, the DH in place of Travis Hafner, grounded a two-run single between third and short to get the Indians within 3-2.
“A huge hit there,” Acta said. “We had to chip away, chip away and Duncan came through.”
Hafner missed his second straight game because of a sore right ankle. The lefty slugger is hitting .342 with four homers in 21 games and is 6 for 10 with a homer and three RBIs in his career against Scherzer.
Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer off Indians starter Jeanmar Gomez in the first. It was his sixth and first by a Detroit batter in six games.
Cabrera had two hits and twice flew out to deep center as he continued to pound Indians pitching. Since joining the Tigers in 2008, he is hitting .332 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs in 53 games against Cleveland.
Alex Avila put Detroit ahead 3-0 with a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
After the Indians rallied in the sixth, the Tigers restored their three-run lead in the seventh on an RBI single by Jhonny Peralta and another sacrifice fly by Avila.
NOTES: RHP Alex White came to Cleveland on Friday, but won’t be officially called up from Triple-A Columbus until Saturday to make his major-league debut as the Indians’ starter. ... Cleveland assigned RHP Adam Miller to Class A Kinston out of extended spring training. A first-round sandwich pick in 2003, Miller hasn’t pitched in a game since May 20, 2008, at Triple-A Buffalo due to a series of finger operations. ... Acta said an MRI on Hafner’s ankle showed no break. ... Tigers CF Austin Jackson went 2 for 5. He was 7 for his previous 54. ... Detroit RF Magglio Ordonez was 4 for 27 (.148) before a fifth-inning single.