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CLEVELAND — The way it ended, nearly seven hours after the start, left the worn-out Cleveland Indians wondering if they should even celebrate.
"It was kind of anti-climactic," said reliever Frank Herrmann. "But at that point, I don't think anyone wanted a re-do."
Detroit reliever David Pauley hit Kosuke Fukudome on the left arm with the bases loaded in the 14th inning to force in Asdrubal Cabrera as the better-late-than-never Indians tightened the AL Central race with a 3-2 win on Tuesday night — actually early Wednesday — to close within three games of the first-place Tigers.
Pauley (5-5) walked Cabrera with one out in the 14th before Travis Hafner ripped a single past second baseman Carlos Guillen, sending Cabrera to third. The Tigers then intentionally walked Carlos Santana to load the bases and face Fukudome, acquired last month from the Chicago Cubs for the playoff chase.
Fukudome, who had struck out in his previous four at-bats, was then plunked on the forearm on a 1-2 pitch by Pauley, giving the Indians their 13th last at-bat win at home this season — and their most important.
"'It took quality at-bats by Cabrera and Hafner and Fuke getting drilled to win it," said Indians manager Manny Acta, who was out of relievers by game's end.
For Cleveland, it was arguably the season's biggest win. The Indians took the opener of their most critical series in several years, and it took them 4 hours, 43 minutes — and a 2-hour rain delay — to do it.
As the game dragged on, everyone was looking for a little more energy.
"I think I had five Red Bulls," said Herrmann (3-0), Cleveland's eighth pitcher and the last one available in the bullpen for Acta, who said he may have gone to starter Josh Tomlin if the game had gone much further.
The Indians have won 12 straight over the Tigers at home, and they needed this one badly to stop their Michigan neighbors from opening a larger lead in the division. Cleveland is 4-0 at home against Detroit this season with all four coming in the final at-bat — three on walkoffs.
It was also Cleveland's first win on a walkoff hit-by-pitch in 20 years. Alex Cole did it June 11, 1991, to beat Toronto in 12 innings.
"That's a huge win,"said reliever Vinnie Pestano, who contributed 1 1-3 scoreless innings for a bullpen that was coming a shaky road trip. "It was back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It came down to who was going to be the first to flinch."
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Fukudome was mobbed near first base as if he had just doubled off the wall, but the Indians' celebration was more subdued than previous dramatic wins, probably because it was nearly 2 a.m. and the teams have to go at it again later in the day.
"That and most of us were in the clubhouse getting ice because we pitched," joked Pestano.
Both bullpens were brilliant. The Tigers gave up just three hits over the final 12 innings with 13 strikeouts, and manager Jim Leyland wasn't about to complain.
"It was a hard-fought game, a terrific game," Leyland said. "It was the same all night for both teams. Their bullpen did a great job. Our bullpen did a great job. They couldn't get a key hit. We couldn't get a key hit."
Cleveland's relievers weren't quite as good, allowing six hits and fanning 11 over 12 innings after the rain delay.
Not long after Indians fans got loose with a 14th-inning stretch, the Indians gave the few die-hard fans still on hand a reason to dance.
The Indians blew a chance to take the lead in the eighth, when they failed to execute a suicide squeeze.
Pinch-hitter Jason Donald led off by doubling to the deepest part of Progressive Field off reliever Daniel Schlereth. Ezequiel Carrera then failed to get down a bunt before moving Donald to third with a groundout. The Indians tried to squeeze Donald home, but Michael Brantley couldn't get his bat on a low, outside curveball, and catcher Alex Avila charged up the line to tag Donald, who didn't have a chance.
Brantley flew out to left to end the inning, and as he neared first base the Cleveland outfielder slammed his batting helmet to the ground in frustration.
A 2-hour, 3-minute rain delay after the second inning forced both managers to pull their starting pitchers and dip into their bullpens earlier than they would have liked.
Sensing the series' importance, and not wanting to play from behind, the Indians took a 2-0 lead in the first.
Jason Kipnis doubled with one out and scored on Cabrera's single. Hafner followed with a single, sending Cabrera to third, where he scored on Santana's sacrifice fly to medium center. It was a good start for the Indians, who are now 36-18 in games where they score first.
But the Tigers came back and tied it with a methodical third. Detroit got two singles, a walk and RBI groundouts from Don Kelly and Austin Jackson to square things.
After the Indians were retired in the bottom half, thunderstorms moved in off Lake Erie and caused the lengthy delay, which chased away a huge chunk of the crowd and muted some of the buzz.
It came back — the next morning.
Notes: There were 439 pitches — 220 for Cleveland, 219 for Detroit. ... Indians RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (0-0), acquired last week in a deadline deal with Colorado, will make his Cleveland debut in the second game of the series against Detroit's Rick Porcello (11-6). ... With no setbacks, Indians OF Shin-Soo Choo could be back in one week. He's been out since June 25 with a broken left thumb and is currently on a rehab assignment. Meanwhile, there's no telling if, or when, OF Grady Sizemore will be ready. Acta said the three-time All-Star, sidelined with a bruised right knee, won't return until September — at the earliest. There's a possibility Sizemore's season could be over. ... The Tigers came in 25-14 in the AL Central, and are in the midst of playing 12 of 15 inside the division. ... Acta said RHP Carlos Carrasco will probably miss a total of three weeks with a sore elbow. Carrasco, placed on the 15-day DL Monday, will serve his six-game suspension for throwing at Kansas City's Billy Butler after he's activated.