CLEVELAND — Quickly running out of season, the Detroit Tigers picked a terrible time to have a messy game.
They made three errors, gave Cleveland a gift, two-run double in the first inning and lost for the 12th time in 13 games to the Indians, 11-4 on Friday night to fall seven games behind the AL Central leaders.
“They just stuck it to us,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. “They were better than us.”
They have been all year.
Justin Upton hit a pair of homers and drove in four runs for the Tigers, who have been outscored 90-40 by the Indians this season. Detroit, which is also trailing in the wild-card race, has six games left with Cleveland. But based on the first 13 matchups, it doesn’t appear the Tigers are anywhere close to turning things in their favor.
“Really where they beat us is that their offense has killed us,” Ausmus said. “They’ve scored runs and we’ve got to find a way to stop them from scoring runs.”
Mike Napoli hit a gift two-run double in the first inning — on a ball left fielder Upton lost in the dusk sky — off rookie Michael Fulmer (10-7) and added a towering two-run homer in the fifth that bounced out of Progressive Field as the Indians lowered the magic number for clinching their first division title since 2007 to nine.
Corey Kluber (17-9) worked seven innings, keeping the top of Detroit’s lineup in check and setting 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.
Kluber improved to 3-0 in three starts this season against Detroit.
“He’s got over 200 strikeouts, more than a strikeout an inning, and a Cy Young in his trophy case,” Ausmus said. “He’s a good pitcher, plain and simple.”
The Tigers were lacking in fundamentals and missed another chance to gain ground on the Indians, who have led the division since June 4. This was the first of seven games between the rivals over the next two weeks and the Indians made sure the Tigers didn’t get any closer or gain any momentum.
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 double.
“It wasn’t a pretty game,” Upton said. “If you play good baseball and lose, that’s one thing. We didn’t play good baseball.”
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 pitch soaring 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.
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.
Detroit is just 2-18 in its last 20 against the Indians.
Upton has 13 career multi-homer games, three this season. He has six homers in September.
Tigers: RHP Jordan Zimmerman, who has been battling a strained neck most of the season, will throw a side session Saturday. He has started twice since June 30, allowing six runs in one inning against Baltimore on Sept. 10.
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.