CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians became entangled in the mess of their young season Wednesday night against Detroit.
Bases loaded. No outs. Tie game. Eighth inning.
For set-up man Vinnie Pestano, it was no sweat.
"There's only one thing to do, and it's not curl up and go away," Pestano said after Cleveland's 4-2 victory. "You attack."
That approach was never more evident than on his final pitch to pinch-hitter Alex Avila.
On the verge of escaping the jam unharmed, Pestano shook off a proposed full-count slider. Pestano feared he would not sleep if he got beat on his second-best pitch. The right-hander instead rocked back and, as Pestano described afterward, "threw it as hard as I can."
For the Indians and a crowd of 22,000 inflated by one of the top walk-up gates in Progressive Field history, it was euphoria.
For the reeling Tigers, it was another opportunity lost.
A division considered an afterthought before the season suddenly got more interesting as the first-place Indians clinched the first series between the American League Central rivals.
Cleveland escaped consecutive bases-loaded jams in the seventh and eighth inning, then ground salt into the reeling Tigers' wounds by scoring the go-ahead run on a throwing error to the plate by Prince Fielder. With runners on second and third in the eighth, Jason Kipnis dashed home on Travis Hafner's one-out grounder to first. Fielder's throw skipped past Avila and Kipnis scored to push the Indians ahead 3-2.
The Indians moved five games ahead of the Tigers and remained 3 1/2 games up on the second-place White Sox.
"An excellent team effort," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
The Tigers' high-profile lineup, meanwhile, continued its struggles in the clutch despite 10 hits.
"There's no rocket science to this," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "You can talk about it until you're blue in the face. There can be runners on, but you have got to get them in."
The Tigers' frustration crescendoed over the course of the night.
In the seventh, Detroit appeared on the verge of breaking a 2-2 tie when Miguel Cabrera took a 3-0 pitch on the outside corner with the bases loaded and two outs. Cabrera took two steps toward first base, only to hear plate umpire Jerry Meals lasso him back. The pitch was ruled a strike, inducing a long glare backward from Cabrera.
The Tigers slugger grounded out to second on the next pitch, and the tension finally boiled over. Cabrera voiced his displeasure to first base umpire Gary Darling, then shouted back at Meals. Detroit's bench continued to squawk for the next several minutes until Meals ejected Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon in the bottom of the inning.
It may have been for the best. In the eighth, the Tigers had nothing to show for loading the bases with nobody out. Facing the hard-throwing Pestano, Jhonny Peralta struck out, Ramon Santiago grounded to first for a force-out at home plate and Avila struck out looking on the 3-2 fastball.
"Only a guy with that kind of stuff can get away with those kinds of acts," Acta said of Pestano.
Tigers starter Doug Fister (1.84 ERA) remained without a victory despite allowing two runs on five hits over 6⅔ innings.
Zach McAllister allowed two runs over 6⅓ innings for the Tribe.
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.