DETROIT — Mark Reynolds spent his first game off in more than a month just trying to stay warm.
On a Sunday in which the skies over Comerica Park delivered rain, snow, and sunshine, the Indians slugger huddled by the dugout space heater. He took cuts in the indoor batting cage. He bounced around. He waited.
Finally, in the 10th inning, Reynolds got his chance.
As usual, he did not miss.
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An afternoon filled with missed opportunities gave way to a clutch finish, with Reynolds’ two-out tiebreaking single the deciding hit in the Indians’ 4-3 victory over the Tigers.
After the Indians (20-15) rallied in the ninth against closer Jose Valverde, Reynolds brought the Tribe in from the cold and into a first-place tie with Detroit (20-15).
The hitter with the all-or-nothing reputation continued his surprising transformation, shortening his swing and sending a two-strike pitch from reliever Darin Downs skipping past third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Carlos Santana scored from second with the winning run.
"I was just trying to get something up in the zone," said Reynolds, who is now hitting .389 (14 for 36) with runners in scoring position. "He started me off changeup-changeup, and he left the third one a little more up than the other two, and I was able to squeeze it through."
Of his nine-inning wait, Reynolds, the AL home runs leader with 11, laughed.
"It's better than being out in the field for nine innings," he said. "I got to be by the heater. ... But I knew once we tied the game, eventually I couldn't stay out of the way."
The Indians have now won 12 of their last 14 games and proved, if only for one weekend, that they can hang with their two-time defending AL Central champion rivals.
After the Tigers rocked Cleveland 10-4 in Friday night’s opener, the Indians answered with back-to-back, one-run victories to win a fourth consecutive series for the first time since 2008. The Tribe has not lost a series since a mid-April sweep by the Red Sox.
"Everybody took Friday night real easy in this locker room," said Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, who tied the game with a two-out single off Valverde in the ninth. "It’s one game. There's no panic in here. This is a long season, and this is just the start of it."
Few wins in the Indians’ recent tear were more improbable than their latest.
Catcher Brayan Pena put the Tigers ahead 2-0 with a two-run homer in the second inning, and Indians starter Zach McAllister labored, allowing three runs — two earned — on eight hits and three walks in an all-day high-wire act. Detroit’s Rick Porcello, meanwhile, held the Indians to two runs on four hits over six innings in his first start since May 2.
Not until the Tigers handed Valverde a 3-2 lead in the ninth did the afternoon take a knifing turn.
Valverde, the Tigers’ recently reinstated closer who was perfect in three previous save opportunities, was familiarly wild from the start. He walked leadoff man Michael Bourn. Then, after Lonnie Chisenhall struck out and Yan Gomes popped out, Valverde walked pinch-hitter Jason Giambi and allowed a game-tying single to Brantley.
It was the first hit Valverde had allowed this season, but a wave of boos followed. Tigers manager Jim Leyland afterward threw his support beyond the closer, saying Valverde is the Tigers’ answer.
In the 10th, Reynolds pinch-hit for Chisenhall with runners on first and second and two outs. The 29-year-old infielder, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Indians, proved again he is at last more than a one-trick pony.
"I didn't know him very well before this year," Manager Terry Francona said of Reynolds, whose high-risk, high-reward reputation was best encapsulated by his 44-homer, 223-strikeout 2009 season with Arizona. "I saw him from playing against him, and he had the big swing and the long home runs. Now that I know him, he's that veteran who just wants to play.
"You move him around the infield, and he does it willingly, he embraces it. He plays third, he plays first, he DHs. Today, it's the day game after a night game where we're giving him a rest, and he's ready to hit. That’s the type of guy he is. These are the kind of guys you can win with."
Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn received a cool welcome, with scattered boos greeting the former Tigers utilityman as he stepped to the plate for the first time in visiting threads. Raburn, who remained on the bench the first two games of the series, batted sixth and went 0 for 2 before he was pulled in the ninth for Bourn.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.