DETROIT — Mike Aviles initially was looking for a sacrifice fly that would snap a scoreless tie. He ended up with a game-breaking grand slam.
Aviles homered in the ninth inning to give the Cleveland Indians a much-needed 4-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, moments after he hoped one of his pop flies in foul territory would be caught.
Before sending a thigh-high pitch over the left-field fence for his ninth homer, Aviles hit two drives into foul territory, including one that second baseman Omar Infante almost caught.
“I wanted him to catch it,” Aviles said. “I’m not even going to lie.
“I was hoping Infante was going to catch that ball, and I was hoping that Torii (Hunter) was going to catch the next one. Both of them would have had really tough throws to make.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Infante shouldn’t have attempted to catch the foul ball because it would’ve allowed Cleveland to take a 1-0 lead right after Detroit intentionally loaded the bases in the hopes of getting an inning-ending double play.
“If you knew they were going to get a grand slam instead of one run, then you’d say catch it,” Leyland joked.
The AL Central leaders had won seven straight against second-place Cleveland. The Tigers won the season series 15-4, a string of success that has helped them build a 7½-game cushion in the division with a month left in the regular season.
“This feels really good because we’re tired of not shaking hands at the end of games when we play that team,” Aviles said. “That’s a team built to win championships, and they are even tougher to beat in this place.”
Detroit, which is 44-27 at home, rested Miguel Cabrera for a second straight game because of a strained abdomen. Leyland said he doesn’t know when the banged-up star will be back in the lineup.
“According to the medical people, that thing can heal while playing,” Leyland said.
Joe Smith (6-2) got the win after giving up one hit and a walk in the eighth, keeping the Tigers scoreless after Danny Salazar’s strong start.
That helped Cleveland avoid an 0-6 road trip.
“We needed this game because we’ve had a tough road trip and we haven’t had a lot of success against those guys,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We want to keep playing until they make us stop.”
Detroit tried to rally in the ninth, but a tough break on the bases proved costly.
Chris Perez gave up a one-out double to Infante, who was hit by Alex Avila’s liner for the second out. The right-hander let No. 9 hitter Ramon Santiago extend the inning with a single, and a passed ball put the runners in scoring position before Andy Dirks grounded out to end the game.
“I hope this was huge for the team,” Aviles said.
Joaquin Benoit (4-1) walked Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley to start the top of the ninth.
Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a sacrifice bunt, putting runners at second and third. The Tigers intentionally walked Jason Kubel to load the bases for Aviles, the No. 8 hitter, who said he had “no idea” when he last hit a grand slam.
“I know I’ve hit a lot of them in my sleep,” he said.
Aviles’ previous slam was two years ago while playing for Triple-A Omaha, a Kansas City affiliate.
Detroit’s Justin Verlander extended his winless streak to five outings, but held a team scoreless for the first time since a seven-inning start on July 14 against Texas.
“I felt really good. Definitely a good sign,” he said.
Verlander gave up four hits and two walks — both in his shaky first inning — and struck out six, the last of which was Kubel on a 99 mph fastball with a runner on third for the second out of the seventh.
The Indians’ starter, Salazar, also didn’t give up a run. He allowed six hits without a walk and struck out five over six innings.
“He used his off-speed stuff more,” Leyland said. “I was surprised. He’s a very talented guy.”
The Tigers were also without center fielder Austin Jackson, a day after he hurt his right shoulder when he hit the wall trying to make a catch in Saturday night’s win.
* Cleveland expanded its roster by five players, adding LHP Nick Hagadone, Jose Ramirez, 33-year-old C Kelly Shoppach, RHP Preston Guilmet and RHP Blake Wood.
* The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired right-handed reliever Matt Langwell from Cleveland to complete the trade that sent Kubel to the Indians. Langwell, 27, was 3-4 with two saves, 52 strikeouts and a 2.24 ERA in 42 relief appearances and one start with Triple-A Columbus.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Baltimore
TIME: 4:05 p.m.
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Masterson (14-9, 3.49 ERA) vs. Norris (3-1, 4.91)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM