CLEVELAND -- The Indians lost more than two hours thanks to a heavy rainstorm. They lost the ability to use starter Justin Masterson as a result. What Cleveland did not want to lose was the critical game at hand.
In a marathon contest that dragged from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, the Tribe pulled off a 3-2, 14-inning victory over the rival Tigers. The win shaved Detroit's lead over Cleveland in the American League Central to three games with two left to play in this crucial series at Progressive Field.
Following a hard-fought battle of bullpens, the Indians scored the game's winning run at 1:52 a.m. ET. With one out and the bases loaded in the final frame, Cleveland right fielder Kosuke Fukudome was struck on the left arm by a pitch from Detroit's David Pauley. The fans who remained erupted, fireworks were set off and the Tribe left satisfied.
"We were just going back and forth and back and forth," said Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano. "This is the longest game I've been a part of and it's certainly one of the most important, given the circumstances of playing the Tigers.
"This was a big win. Be it August or September, whenever, this was a big win for us."
It was a game that served as a redemption song for Cleveland's bullpen.
During the team's recent seven-game road trip through Boston and Texas, the Tribe (57-56) lost four games in the opponents' last at-bat. Three came via walk-off hits and the other in the form of an eighth-inning meltdown. Back home in Cleveland, the Indians' relief corps regained its footing and silenced the Tigers.
When rain interrupted play after two innings, the Indians had hoped to send Masterson -- the rotation's ace at the moment -- back to the hill. That was until the delay reached the two-hour mark. Manager Manny Acta set an hour and a half as his cutoff point for sending the sinkerballer back out there to face the Tigers (61-54).
"That was our top that we were going to wait," Acta said.
Acta turned to veteran Chad Durbin, who took the mound after the rain subsided following a delay of 2 hours, 3 minutes. The right-hander set down the meat of Detroit's lineup in order and went on to piece together three shutout innings that did well in setting the tone for what followed.
"He's one of, if not the player of the game," Pestano said.
Durbin's effort helped preserve a 2-2 deadlock that was the product of some early offense by both sides. Cleveland struck for a pair against Detroit righty Doug Fister in the first inning and Detroit countered with two runs off Materson in the second. It was another six hours before another run touched the plate.
Overall, the Indians' bullpen combined for 12 scoreless innings in which the relief corps struck out 12 Tigers hitters. Rafael Perez followed Durbin. Tony Sipp and Pestano covered things from the seventh through the ninth. Closer Chris Perez and sidearmer Joe Smith held down the fort through the 12th.
"We just didn't do anything with their bullpen," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "The bullpen shut us down."
Detroit's bullpen nearly did the same.
Lefty Duane Below followed Fister and was perfect over four crisp innings. Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit entered in succession and held the Tribe off the board -- and with just two hits -- through the 13th inning. Only in the eighth did Cleveland have an opportunity to force the issue.
Pinch-hitter Jason Donald led off against Schlereth and doubled off the top of the wall in center field. Donald advanced to third base on a groundout by Ezequiel Carrera, setting up a chance for a squeeze bunt by Michael Brantley. On a 1-1 count, Brantley squared at the last second on a pitch that tailed low and outside.
Brantley was unable to make contact and Donald -- sprinting home on the play -- was caught in no-man's land. He was easily retired in a rundown and Brantley followed with a flyout to left field to bring a disappointing halt to the would-be rally.
"I take full responsibility for it -- I called for it," Acta said. "When it works, a lot of people like to call me smart. So when it doesn't work, I take full responsibility for it."
Cleveland's last hope out of the bullpen was Frank Herrmann, the right-hander.
By the time his name was called, it was around 1 a.m.
"I probably had five Red Bulls," Herrmann said with a laugh. "I finally got my opportunity to go in there. I'm happy I was able to help out."
Told of Herrmann's energy drink consumption, Pestano laughed.
"I had my usual coffee before the game," Pestano said. "Then I had a Red Bull in the sixth. Frank, I can only imagine what he was throwing down back there to stay awake to come in at 1 in the morning."
Herrmann (3-0) issued leadoff walks in each of the 13th and 14th innings but escaped both jams unscathed.
In the home half of the final frame, Asdrubal Cabrera drew a one-out walk against Pauley, Travis Hafner singled to right field and Carlos Santana was intentionally walked to loaded the bases. Pauley's 18th pitch -- the 439th offering of the ballgame -- flew inside, struck Fukudome and brought a painful end to the grueling contest.
That marked the ninth walk-off win of the season for the Indians -- the third in the past four games against the Tigers in Cleveland. Overall, the Tribe has now won 12 games in a row over Detroit at Progressive Field.
The late-inning magic this season has come in all shapes and sizes.
Cleveland boasts five walk-off home runs, including two grand slams. The team has enjoyed two walk-off singles, including the first career hit for rookie Jason Kipnis. Brantley sent the Tribe to a dramatic win with a walk-off walk earlier this year.
Now, the Indians can add a walk-off hit batsmen to that list.
"It was kind of anti-climactic," Herrmann said with a smile. "But I don't think anybody wanted a re-do there. We were all happy with it."
Could two wins on the same day be next?
"Hopefully we can take care of business tomorrow before 3 in the morning," Acta joked.