DETROIT -- The Indians were 5-24 in August and among the bottom of the American League stat sheet in almost every offensive category. The one area they excelled, however, was in stealing bases. Their aggressiveness on the basepaths -- combined with some solid pitching -- paid off against the Tigers on Monday.
The Tribe went a perfect 4-for-4 in steals as they consistently put the pressure on Detroit's pitching staff, despite no extra-base hits in the game. As a result, the Indians scratched across three runs to edge the Tigers, 3-2, at Comerica Park on Labor Day and give pitcher Corey Kluber his first Major League victory.
"[The steals were] very important because if you look at the box score, all we got was singles," manager Manny Acta said. "We were able to be aggressive on the bases and have some success. Stolen bases were huge for us."
Facing Tigers' right-hander Anibal Sanchez, the Tribe put together eight singles and one walk. In total, they had 11 singles and earned three free passes. Although there wasn't one hit that went for extra bases, the Indians had eight different runners reach second and put a runner in scoring position in five separate innings.
The stolen bases created two of the three runs -- and the only run not coming after a steal was the direct result of a well-executed hit-and-run play in the first inning. The Indians were so aggressive on the basepaths that they elected to send the catcher -- representing the go-ahead run in the seventh inning -- against a lefty.
Reliever Darin Downs allowed Lou Marson to single and the backstop took off for second on Downs' first pitch to Shin-Soo Choo, sliding in safely. Downs loaded the bases before being hooked. Tigers manager Jim Leyland went to Brayan Villarreal, the team's strikeout specialist, looking to escape the jam.
But Asdrubal Cabrera, making his first start after missing two games with a sore right wrist, hit a 97-mph fastball in a 1-2 count deep to straightaway center for what proved to be the game-winning sacrifice fly.
"You're hoping for a strikeout or a pop-up, so you bring in the harder thrower to try to get one of those accomplished," Leyland said. "He almost got him, but he saw a couple more pitches after he fouled one off for the second strike. ... He's a good hitter."
Acta said that Cabrera was seeing the ball well at the plate for the entire game. It was perhaps most apparent in his second at-bat, when he drove in Choo after a 12-pitch battle against Sanchez.
"That long at-bat against Sanchez basically set up the whole [game] with that base hit up the middle," Acta said.
Of course, Choo set up Cabrera for the RBI as he stole second and then took third on a throw from catcher Alex Avila that sailed high into center field.
"We always look for it with the pitcher, how he moves, how quick he is to the plate," Choo said. "So we had an opportunity to run, and it happened to work for us today."
It was also working for Kluber.
The 26-year-old right-hander had been winless in nine career appearances and six starts this season. He entered the game 0-3 with a 5.19 ERA this season. But even with the Tigers coming off a big three-game sweep of the White Sox to move into a tie for first place, he was able to stop their momentum.
"He pitched very well," Acta said. "We took him out there [after the sixth], wanted him to leave on a good note and he ended up getting his first win in the Major Leagues. We're very happy for the kid."
For Kluber, it didn't start out looking like Monday would be the day. In the bottom of the first, he loaded the bases with one out. Delmon Young followed with an RBI base hit, prompting a visit to the mound by pitching coach Ruben Niebla.
"I started off a little erratic, but even the RBI hit from Young, I made a pretty good pitch there," Kluber said. "Ruben came out and told me to keep making good pitches and we knew that [Brennan] Boesch was an aggressive hitter, so we tried to get him to go a bit out of the zone with one."
Boesch came up next and swung at the first pitch, hitting into an inning-ending double play. And although the Tigers would score and have a few more opportunities, their chance to blow open the game was gone.
"I think the double play was the key for him," Acta said. "With a lineup like that and a young kid like that who's feeling his way in the big leagues, he could've just crumbled and given up a crooked number there."
Kluber allowed two runs on six hits in six innings, doing just enough to receive the traditional celebratory beer shower for a pitcher's first big league win.
The Indians are 16 games back in the AL Central, pending the outcome of the White Sox game, and are all but out of playoff contention. However, five of their last nine series are against teams vying for the postseason.
One night after the Tigers experienced an emotional win on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball in front of a sold out crowd to sweep Chicago and move into a tie for first, the Indians showed up the next afternoon and stole some of their momentum.
And that's what they're playing for, Kluber said.
"We're playing to be spoiler," he said.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.