DETROIT -- Call it the Motor City meltdown.
On Sunday at Comerica Park, Ubaldo Jimenez labored mightily in an abbreviated effort, sending the Indians well on their way to an 8-7 loss and a discouraging three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers. Cleveland must now pray to the baseball gods that the only thing lost was this series.
There is still time to salvage the season.
"There's a lot of baseball left to be played," Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner said. "Obviously, today was a big game and we wanted to win it, but there's still a lot of baseball. We've still got games against these guys.
"We're going to have to play well down the stretch."
That would be the stretch that has the weary Wahoos playing 39 games over the course of the final 37 days. That slate includes six more games against the first-place Tigers (68-58), who now boast a 4 1/2-game advantage over the Indians (62-61) in the American League Central standings.
Entering this crucial series, the Tribe had whittled its division deficit down to 1 1/2 games, giving the team a shot at overtaking the Central's top spot before heading back to Cleveland. Instead, all the progress made of late went by the wayside, and now the Indians are further behind in the standings than they have been all year.
"We worked extremely hard for 10 days to shave the lead down," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "By having this rough series, we have to go back to work again. We're going to have to go home and start working again and try to shave it back to where we want it to be."
Sunday's debacle in Detroit included plenty of drama. Beyond Jimenez's implosion -- one that included eight runs allowed in only 3 1/3 innings -- the tightly-contested tilt included a strong comeback attempt from the Tribe, two controversial calls on the basepaths (one favoring the Indians and the other the Tigers) and an ejection for Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
In the third inning, Tigers starter Rick Porcello threw behind the back of Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera, leading to warnings for both teams. Porcello's command issues later had him out of the game before the end of the fourth inning. Hafner exited in the sixth, though his departure stemmed from a right foot strain.
The Indians made their exit as a team after one last punch from the Tigers.
Down 8-7 in the ninth inning, Cleveland had runners on second and third base with one out and pinch-hitter Matt LaPorta in the box facing closer Jose Valverde. LaPorta flied out to center fielder Austin Jackson, who came up firing to the plate. Kosuke Fukudome positioned himself at third, hustled home on the catch and was tagged out to end the game.
Valverde, who now has 37 saves in as many chances this season, pumped his fist violently and the fans in Comerica Park roared in celebration.
"No guts, no glory," Acta said of Fukudome's sprint. "You have to do it."
On most days, seven runs would have been plenty for the Tribe, but this afternoon was marred by Jimenez's lackluster effort. It was especially disappointing, because this was the type of game Cleveland had in mind when it sent its top two pitching prospects to Colorado in order to land the star pitcher before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
With a fatigued bullpen, Acta was forced to leave Jimenez on the mound throughout and after Detroit's seven-run explosion in the third inning. That relentless push included 47 pitches from Jimenez and 12 batters for the Tigers, who stormed out to a 7-0 lead with the help of home runs from Delmon Young and Victor Martinez.
"The first two innings I felt really good," Jimenez said. "In the third inning, they did a really good job. They came hacking. They were looking for the perfect pitch to hit and they hit it."
The Tribe did what it could to overcome Jimenez's troubles.
In the fourth inning Cleveland rallied for five runs -- a push that was ignited by a one-out solo home run by Carlos Santana. The Indians then strung together five consecutive hits (four against Porcello, who was chased after 3 2/3 innings) and took advantage of a run-scoring passed ball to trim Detroit's lead to 7-5.
The Tigers answered with an eighth run in the fourth, though Acta took exception to a ruling along the way. Jackson opened the frame with a single off Jimenez before stealing second. It appeared as though Jackson was tagged out by Cabrera, but second-base umpire Tim McClelland deemed him safe.
Two batters later, Jackson crossed the plate on a base hit from Miguel Cabrera.
"He had him," said Acta, referring to Asdrubal Cabrera's tag on Jackson. "I guess eventually we are going to have to go with that buzzer and use instant replay. He was out."
The Indians struck for two more runs, but that was the extent of the rally. Cleveland's final run came courtesy of an RBI single from Hafner in the sixth inning. While rounding first base, though, Hafner injured his right foot. As the DH limped back to first, he was easily thrown out and then forced to leave the game.
Hafner will undergo an MRI exam on Monday in Cleveland.
All things considered, Acta was pleased with the fight that his team displayed.
"I'm proud of the way these guys turned around," Acta said, "and made this a ballgame after it looked like it was going to be a laugher."
The Tigers took notice, too.
"They wanted to win the game so bad," Detroit second baseman Ramon Santiago said. "You could see that, the way they played. They kept coming back and coming back."
Now, the Indians need to pull off an even bigger comeback.
"You don't want to fall four games behind against this team," Jimenez said. "You want to keep being close, but it's part of the game. There's nothing you can do but get ready for tomorrow. We still have more than a month left."