CLEVELAND — As a funk became a freefall, the Tigers badly needed something to realign their season.
They needed to play the Indians.
After their last trip to Progressive Field set off the club’s worst stretch in years, the Tigers got hot in Cleveland upon their return, finishing off an exorcising weekend sweep with a 10-4 on Sunday.
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On a day that had fathers shielding the eyes of their ballplaying sons, Detroit turned back-to-back Indians errors into a seven-run fifth inning and later its fourth straight victory.
Combined with six strong innings from reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the Tigers had a lot of reasons to feel good. They left town with a 2 1/2-game lead over the Kansas City Royals atop the AL Central.
Is the Tigers’ 9-20 tailspin officially behind them?
Is the slump over?
“I'm not going to make any declarations about anything,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.
“We played well here this time. The last time we were in Cleveland, we didn't. We’re playing better, obviously, and we’re pitching better. Pitching is always the key.”
The Tigers were ungracious guests on what the Indians hoped would be a celebratory weekend. Cleveland began the series with the best home record in baseball (23-12), and crowds poured in expecting more of the same.
Though the Indians rank last in the major leagues in home attendance, more than 100,000 fans turned out for the three games between the division rivals — including 26,023 on Sunday — making this series the most-attended series at Progressive Field since Aug. 26-28, 2011, against the Royals.
By the end of Sunday, though, only a few thousand remained. The Tigers iced this one in the fifth, undamming weeks of frustration in matching their biggest inning of the year.
Ian Kinsler and Austin Jackson led off the inning with singles, then watched an Indians team with 18 left feet — Cleveland has committed an MLB-leading 67 errors — bumble in the field. Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera dropped a routine throw on a force play at second base and centerfielder Michael Bourn flubbed a fly ball by Victor Martinez.
Indians manager Terry Francona had an idea of what was to come.
“We helped them, and they don’t need any help,” he said.
J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos followed with back-to-back two-run doubles to oust Indians starter Josh Tomlin, who allowed eight runs — five earned — on eight hits in four-plus innings.
The Tigers scored five runs before recording an out and sent 12 batters to the plate. The nearly 40-minute half of the inning was so long that Scherzer retreated into the tunnel to throw into a net to keep loose.
“It was like a rain delay,” Scherzer said. “Heck, it felt like one.”
In all, the Tigers had 12 hits Sunday. Miguel Cabrera hit his 13th homer of the season and drove in three runs while J.D. Martinez further entrenched himself in the middle of the order, extending his career-best hitting streak to 12 games. Ausmus said,“I don't see how I can take [Martinez] out of the lineup unless he tells me he doesn't want to play.”
Scherzer, meanwhile, followed one of the worst starts of his career with a more vintage outing, continuing the weeklong revival of the Tigers’ starting rotation. Scherzer, who allowed 10 runs in four innings against Kansas City last week, held the Indians to one run on six hits while striking out eight in six innings.
The only caveat to his win came when he was struck square on the right knee by a line drive off the bat of Lonnie Chisenhall in the sixth. Scherzer chased down the ball to get the out but limped back to the mound. He remained in the game after consulting with Ausmus and the trainer Kevin Rand.
“His velocity actually went up after that,” Ausmus said.
Scherzer said afterward he was sore but fine.
“He hit it good, and my leg is planted into the ground, so it has no give,” Scherzer said. “I wore it pretty hard. It will hurt now but it should be good [today].”
For now, finally, the Tigers are living right.
McCOY RECALLED: Pat McCoy was eating a sushi lunch with a Mud Hens teammate Saturday afternoon in Charlotte when the text of his dreams appeared on his phone.
“Our trainer said, ’You've got a flight in two hours to the big leagues. Don't miss it,’” McCoy said. “They got my bags from my [hotel] room, packed my stuff at the field, and off I was. It really hasn't sunk in yet. ... This is awesome.”
McCoy was one of two former Toledo relievers to make his big-league debut on Sunday. McCoy, recalled after the Tigers placed reliever Ian Krol on the 15-day disabled list with left shoulder inflammation, worked around a single in a scoreless eighth inning. Chad Smith, called up last week, allowed three runs in the ninth inning.
The 25-year-old McCoy was at a loss at a loss to describe the latest turn in his surprising season. Cast off by the Nationals organization, he began the year as a minor league free agent at Double-A Erie. He went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings with the Hens.
McCoy, who grew up near Buffalo, said about a dozen family members made it to Cleveland for his debut, including his father, Doug.
“He doesn't cry much,” McCoy said. “But I could tell he was holding back.”
Krol, who showed signs of a tired arm last week, expects to make a rehab appearance in Toledo before rejoining the Tigers early next month.