CLEVELAND — Joe Smith stopped Detroit's best hitter before Cleveland staged a stunning four-run rally off Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
And the AL Central race got even tighter.
Smith (7-2) got Miguel Cabrera on a double-play grounder to end the Tigers' seventh inning. Then Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner hit consecutive first-pitch homers off Verlander (11-6) in a six-hit, four-run bottom half that gave the Indians an exciting 5-3 win Thursday night.
"It was like unbelievable and so exciting," said Santana, who began the uprising. Hafner hit the very next pitch to tie it at 3.
"When Carlos hit his, the hope is there," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Then Hafner hit one and the momentum shifted."
Asdrubal Cabrera singled home the go-ahead run and Jason Kipnis added an RBI single as Cleveland took two of three in the series.
"Give them credit," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "They had a great game plan. It looked like they were going to ambush the first-pitch fastball and they never got off it."
Detroit dropped a half-game behind the idle Chicago White Sox and third-place Cleveland got within 3½ games of the lead.
Vinnie Pestano pitched the eighth and Chris Perez the ninth for his 29th save in 31 chances. Cleveland is 7-2 against the Tigers and Perez has saved each win. He closed this one by fanning Quintin Berry with runners on first and third.
Austin Jackson had three hits and Delmon Young homered for Detroit, which lost for only the fourth time in 18 games.
Verlander came in with a 6-1 record in seven outings since June 14. He had a three-hitter until the Indians erupted.
"Horrible execution of pitches," Verlander said. "I'm extremely disappointed in myself for not going out there with a two-run lead in the seventh to shut the door and give us that 'W.' "
It was Verlander's 63rd straight start of at least six innings. He dropped to 40-12 over that span, which is the longest streak since Hall of Famer Steve Carlton's 69-game run for Philadelphia in 1979-82.
Santana stunned the right-hander by slamming a fastball deep into the seats in right-center for his eighth homer. Hafner hit a towering shot to the same area for his 10th.
"I threw pitches in homer-happy areas to lead off the inning and they hit 'em," Verlander said.
Jose Lopez singled before Verlander got two quick outs. But the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner could not slam the door. Shin-Soo Choo singled and Cabrera grounded a single between first and second.
Kipnis, who had a sacrifice fly to tie it at 1 in the first, singled home Choo for a 5-3 lead.
"I didn't make a smart pitch to Lopez and then a couple of non hard-hit balls," Verlander said. "I can't complain about the ones that weren't hard hit. I put myself in that situation to begin with."
Acta said Smith stopping Miguel Cabrera was the play of the game.
"I feel a little bit better about getting this win because I didn't blow the game first," said Smith, who on Tuesday night yielded a game-tying two-run homer to Cabrera before Cleveland rallied to give him a 3-2 win.
"Obviously, he got me the other day. It felt great to get him this time."
Verlander is 9-3 in his last 14 starts against the Indians. Allowing nine hits and five runs over seven innings dropped him to 13-13 overall against them and just 6-10 with a 5.83 ERA in Cleveland.
Jackson opened the game with an infield single off Indians starter Zach McAllister, taking second when third baseman Lopez threw away his slow roller for an error. McAllister struck out Berry and Miguel Cabrera before Prince Fielder poked an RBI single between third and short to make it 1-0.
Jackson had a two-out RBI single in the fourth and Delmon Young hit his 11th homer in the sixth for a 3-1 lead.
Cleveland put two runners on in the bottom half, but Verlander got Santana to bounce into a double play and retired Hafner on a broken-bat groundout with a runner on third.
McAllister worked 6 1-3 innings despite making 30 pitches in the first inning. The right-hander gave up two earned runs and eight hits. He has a 2.56 ERA in five starts in July.
NOTES: Rain delayed the start 26 minutes. ... Indians RHP Roberto Hernandez threw 66 pitches over five innings in a rehab start at Class A Lake County. It was his first game since being suspended three weeks until Aug. 11 for playing since 2000 under the false name of Fausto Carmona. ... The Tigers outrighted LHP Kelvin De La Cruz to Double-A Erie. The former Indians farmhand was designated for assignment Monday. ... Detroit was 6 for 35 (.171) with runners in scoring position in the series. Fielder leads the AL with a .398 (39 of 98) average in those situations.