CLEVELAND -- There's plenty of time before the sweltering summer heat cools to a crisp, autumn chill, accompanied by the vibrant leaves adorning each tree in Cleveland. But weeks before the pennant race really ramps up and teams feel the daily pressure on the diamond, the Indians learned a lot about themselves during their three-game set with the American League Central-leading Tigers.
It took a 6-foot-5, 99-mph-fastball-wielding hurler to halt the Tribe's momentum, but Justin Verlander, backed by an early lead, proved too big of a hurdle for Cleveland to climb on Thursday in a 4-3 loss at Progressive Field.
Still, manager Manny Acta discovered just how driven his team is as it tries to surmount Detroit's three-game division lead.
Acta caught a glimpse of his team's passion right off the bat.
Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson led off the game with a grounder to third base. Lonnie Chisenhall scooped up the ball and airmailed it to Carlos Santana. The first baseman tried to keep his foot on the base while reaching for the errant throw, a risky attempt at multitasking that proved too demanding, and the ball sailed over his head, allowing Jackson to advance to second base. Jackson would later score.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, displeased with Santana's effort on that play, approached his teammate in the dugout following the inning. A shouting match ensued, and the two had to be separated.
But what appeared to be an ugly confrontation was picturesque to Acta, who lit up with a smile when asked about the spat after the game.
"I like it. That means people around here want to win," Acta said. "Asdrubal just confronted Carlos about not catching the throw, and Carlos didn't like the way he talked to him. That's fire. I like it. People care, and that's all I can ask for."
The Indians are developing young talent on the fly while competing for a division crown. Inexperienced players fill the lineup on a nightly basis, from Chisenhall to second baseman Jason Kipnis to center fielder Ezequiel Carrera. The youth movement makes Acta that much more appreciative of any demonstration of leadership.
"Asdrubal is in the middle of the infield, where he has a kid at third, a kid at second and a kid at first base," Acta said. "So he has to take charge, and we like that fire."
Santana said that the dispute was "something that happens in baseball," a meeting of two motivated minds concentrating on avoiding mistakes during a critical series.
"Me and him are friends," Santana said, "so everything is good."
Both players took out their anger at the plate.
In the second inning, with the Indians trailing by four, Santana roped his 18th homer of the year into the seats in right-center.
"I know [Verlander] throws his fastball hard," Santana said, "so I took a good swing and hit a good home run."
In the third, Cabrera sprayed a two-out, two-run double to right field to bring the Tribe within a run.
That, however, was the last damage the Indians inflicted upon Verlander, who notched his 100th career win, 12 of which have come at the Tribe's expense. Verlander fanned 10, his fourth outing this season with at least that many. He pitched a two-hit shutout against Cleveland on June 14, when he punched out 12.
Yet the Tribe hung around with timely hits and patience at the plate. Verlander departed after seven innings and 108 pitches.
"It was a really tough night for me all around, probably the toughest internal battle I've had all year with myself, my mechanics and everything," Verlander said. "Probably the worst I've felt."
With a runner on first in the sixth, Santana tagged another Verlander fastball to the limits of the outfield, but Jackson made a leaping catch at the wall to rob the first baseman of extra bases and preserve Detroit's one-run lead.
Fausto Carmona pitched effectively for the fifth straight outing since returning from the 15-day disabled list on July 18. He allowed four runs (three earned) and seven hits in seven innings.
Six Indians hitters struck out at least twice, one night after the Tribe tallied 18 hits in a 10-3 triumph. But Acta was still pleased with his squad's effort, which nearly proved to be enough against the Major League's first 17-game winner.
With more than six weeks of baseball remaining, the skipper saw evidence of his players' hunger amid a productive series.
"I like the way we went about our business," he said. "Our main goal was to shorten up the distance, and we did. Yeah, we wanted to pick up three games, but that wasn't the case. I like the way we played."
Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.