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Must C Clutch: Aviles belts the go-ahead grand slam

DETROIT -- All it took was one swing for the Indians to snap their five-game skid and reenergize their push for the postseason. Mike Aviles drilled a grand slam over the left-field wall in the ninth inning to lift Cleveland to a 4-0 win Sunday at Comerica Park.

The Indians are now 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers in the American League Central and 3 1/2 games back of the AL's second Wild Card spot after Tampa Bay lost to Wild Card-leading Oakland.

Although Cleveland struggled for the big hit with runners in scoring position this week, it was walks and the team's speed that ultimately set the scene for Aviles' heroics in the Indians' lone win on their six-game road trip through Atlanta and Detroit.

In the ninth, Carlos Santana drew a leadoff walk against Detroit's Joaquin Benoit and was replaced on the basepaths by Jose Ramirez, making his Major League debut. Ramirez stole 38 bases at Double-A Akron and required extra attention from Benoit. Benoit has struggled holding runners on this season, allowing nine stolen bases in as many attempts.

Next, Michael Brantley drew an eight-pitch walk, and both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Asdrubal Cabrera. The Tigers intentionally walked Jason Kubel to keep their double-play options available, but instead, Aviles drilled a 2-2 cutter into Detroit's bullpen.

"To get Ramirez in the game where he's doing something, Cabby gets the bunt down, sometimes the little things add up to big things," manager Terry Francona said. "We needed to win today."

It was the ninth home run of the season for Aviles and his first career grand slam.

"I hit a lot of grand slams in my sleep," Aviles said. "It's just good to have a real one."

Snapping the team's losing streak, however, Aviles hopes his game-winning homer will lead to more than just one victory.

"I'm hoping it was huge for the team," Aviles said. "We had a rough road trip. Definitely wasn't the way we wanted it to go. But any time you can squeak out a victory on the last day, hopefully you can take that momentum going forward."

Danny Salazar set the tone for the Tribe, shutting down a Tigers lineup that was without Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson. Salazar struck out five, giving up six hits and no runs or walks in six innings to take a no-decision. Though he threw only 77 pitches, it was his longest start since throwing 103 pitches over 7 2/3 innings on Aug. 7, against Detroit.

"He actually was quite a bit different today than he was the first outing," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He used his offspeed stuff more, which I was kind of surprised by. It looked to me like he used his offspeed pitches more than he did the first start against us. He's very talented."

In Salazar's last three starts, he's allowed three runs in 15 1/3 innings. With Corey Kluber on the verge of returning and Ubaldo Jimenez pitching at his best, the Indians are hoping Salazar can help give them a formidable rotation for the last month of the season.

"He was efficient," Francona said. "Pitched in enough with strikes to make them respect that and opened up the plate. When he did get into a couple baserunners, he was able to get himself out of it. His future is obviously exciting. I mean, it's exciting now."

The Tigers were able to put two runners in scoring position with one out in the third inning, and one runner on third base with two out in the fifth, but Salazar escaped each inning unscathed.

"The kid's got good stuff," Aviles said. "It's impressive to watch him go out there every fifth day and watch him continue to get better. It's almost scary watching him get better. He's got unbelievable stuff."

It's a change of fortune for the Indians, who lost 15 of their 19 meetings with the Tigers this season. It was the first time since 1969 the Tribe have lost more than 15 games to an opponent in a single season.

However, with only nine of their remaining 26 games against opponents with a winning record, the Indians are hopeful that leads to better success.

"We've got to beat everybody right now," said reliever Cody Allen, who pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning. "We put ourselves in the position where every game means a lot. It doesn't matter if it's these guys, the Braves -- no matter who it is, we have to win games."

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