CLEVELAND — Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me three times, shame on ... the Cleveland Indians.
For the third straight spring, the Indians have raced past the quarter-pole atop the American League Central. Yet after back-to-back second-half collapses, there is a growing sense inside Cleveland’s clubhouse that this year — at last — is different.
Players say the clubhouse is looser, the numbers say the lineup is deeper, and, heck, intuition says the team is luckier. The Indians (26-17) had won 18 of 22 games heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Tigers, with their latest victory in the club’s best stretch since 2005 further kindling suspicions this could be a memorable summer in Cleveland.
The Indians began Tuesday with a 2 1/2 game lead over Detroit.
"Unreal. Speechless. Not sure I remember a stretch like this," Indians president Mark Shapiro wrote in a message on Twitter.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said the Indians have the look of a contender.
"They’re a different-looking team than they were, obviously," he said. "I thought they plugged in some nice pieces. They got a couple veteran guys. We knew they were going to be good. ... There’s a lot of talent over there."
Stop if you’ve heard a similar line the last two years. At this juncture last season, the Indians were 25-18 with a 2 1/2 game lead over the Tigers. They finished 20 games out of first place.
Still, there is evidence this year may not be a mirage.
Reinforced by offseason acquisitions Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Mark Reynolds, the Indians lead the AL in home runs (60), slugging percentage (.462), and on-base percentage plus slugging (.796).
NEW ADDITION: The Indians placed Swisher on the paternity list after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child.
Joanna Garcia-Swisher welcomed a healthy baby girl Tuesday, manager Terry Francona said. Cord Phelps was called up from Columbus to replace Swisher, who will be out one to three days.
DAY OFF: The Tigers’ off day Monday gave their overworked bullpen a needed day to refresh.
Detroit relievers threw 17 1/3 innings in the Tigers’ four games at Texas — a stretch in which neither ace Justin Verlander nor Anibal Sanchez made it beyond the third inning.
"That’s one of those freak things," Leyland said. "Knock on wood, I don’t expect that to happen often."
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