CLEVELAND — Mike Napoli paused in the batter’s box and admired his towering homer, a shot that climbed high into the night with zero chance of being caught.
The Indians are beginning to look uncatchable, too.
Napoli drove in four runs — two on a gift double, two on a ball that bounced out of Progressive Field — and the Indians stretched their lead over Detroit in the AL Central to seven games by beating the second-place Tigers 11-4 on Friday night.
Napoli hit a strange, ground-rule double in the first inning off rookie Michael Fulmer (10-7) and added one of those soaring shots he’s made routine this season as the Indians lowered the magic number for clinching their first division title since 2007 to nine. They did it in front of a pom-pom waving crowd of nearly 30,000 fans, who are beginning to believe this season could stretch deep into October.
“It was electric,” Napoli said. “You could just feel the energy, which is adrenaline for us.”
Corey Kluber (17-9) worked seven innings, kept the top of Detroit’s lineup in check and set the tone for the Indians’ biggest series this season. The right-hander is 8-1 in 12 starts since the All-Star break and remains the one pitcher in the rotation Cleveland can count on.
Carlos Santana added two RBIs for the Indians, who improved to 12-1 against the Tigers.
“They’ve had our number for a few years now,” Kluber said. “I don’t know if you’re really thinking about turning the tables on them, so to speak. Obviously we have a lot of games left against them, so it’s not done yet — but that’s a good feeling.”
Justin Upton hit a pair of homers and drove in all four runs for Detroit, which missed another chance to gain ground and is running out of season.
“It’s really very similar to 11 out of the first 12 games we played,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. “They just stuck it to us. They were better than us.”
This was the first of seven games between the rivals over the next two weeks and the Indians, who have led the division since June 4, made sure the Tigers didn’t get any closer or gain any momentum.
Napoli’s 34th homer gave the Indians a 6-1 lead.
Jason Kipnis was on second with one out when Napoli, who proudly says he swings as hard as he can, whenever he can, sent a 2-2 fastball from Fulmer over the wall in left. None of the fans was able to catch it on the fly and it ricocheted off the sidewalk, over the fence and into the plaza behind the ballpark.
“For me, a high fastball like that, I swing at them a lot, but I don’t really connect with them,” Napoli said with a laugh. “For me to get on top of that one and be able to drive it, I was pretty excited about it.”
Upton’s three-run homer in the sixth pulled the Tigers within 6-4, but the Indians tacked on a run in their half before Kluber retired Miguel Cabrera with a runner at third to end the seventh. Detroit’s first three hitters — Ian Kinsler, Cameron Maybin and Cabrera — went 0 for 11 with a walk off Kluber.
The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the first on a strange play.
With runners at second and third, Napoli hit a fly ball with one out to deep left that Upton never tracked off the bat. As Upton helplessly looked skyward and drifted aimlessly toward the line, Napoli’s shot, which should have been a sacrifice fly, bounced on the warning track and over the 19-foot-high wall for a two-run, ground-rule double.
“A fortunate break for us,” Napoli said. “I’ll take it. I was just trying to get it to the outfield so we could score that run.”
With his strikeout of Cabrera to end the third, Kluber moved past Addie Joss (921) for 11th place on the team’s career strikeout list. Kluber has 924 career strikeouts and is now behind Luis Tiant (1,041) for 10th place. Hall of Famer Bob Feller (2,581) is Cleveland’s career leader.
Indians: C Yan Gomes broke a bone in his right wrist and will likely miss the remainder of this season. Gomes was scheduled to be activated Friday after missing six weeks with a separated shoulder. But in his final rehab game Wednesday, Gomes was hit by a pitch, a cruel twist to his tough season. … RF Lonnie Chisenhall is day-to-day with an abdominal issue. He was scratched from the lineup on Thursday.
Tigers: RHP Justin Verlander is 0-3 with a 9.18 ERA in three starts against Cleveland this season. He’s 9-14 with a 5.61 ERA in 25 career starts at Progressive Field.
Indians: RHP Carlos Carrasco looks to bounce back after going just 3 2/3 innings in his previous start at Chicago on Sunday. He’s 2-0 with a 0.51 ERA in three starts against the Tigers in 2016.