CLEVELAND -- The Tigers started a five-game winning streak by overcoming a four-run opening inning Doug Fister gave up Tuesday night in Toronto. Detroit put up a six-run second inning that night and didn't trail at any point since entering Sunday's matinee.
Five days later, after Miguel Cabrera's 28th home run of the year opened the scoring against the Indians, Fister gave up another four-run first that finally put Detroit behind. The Tigers rallied again with six runs, half of them on Torii Hunter's game-tying homer in the eighth, and came within a base hit of pulling ahead.
Instead, Michael Brantley's second homer of the game, a go-ahead drive off Al Alburquerque in the eighth inning, took back the game and sent the Tigers to a 9-6 loss. It brought the Indians back within 2 1/2 games in the American League Central.
The Tigers went 45 innings over five days and two cities without falling behind, including the first two games of their division showdown at Progressive Field. Even in defeat, the team that couldn't seem to produce runs on a consistent basis just a week ago scored six runs for the sixth consecutive game, their longest streak since September 2010 and their longest streak within a single road trip since June 1994.
"They're never out of it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Fortunately, we keep playing. That would have been a tough one to go home today with a loss. But we didn't."
In a win-loss business, it's a mere consolation prize. Detroit missed out on a chance for a season-high sixth consecutive win, as well as any possibility for its first four-game series sweep in Cleveland in 25 years.
But for a manager who often bristles at blown leads and saw his bullpen take its 16th loss of the year, the third most in the American League, the fact that they actually got that far made losing it easier to digest.
"We're fine," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We let one get away today for two reasons: We walked people and didn't keep the ball in the ballpark. You're not going to win when you do that. But what an effort to come back like that. I mean, I've got no complaints."
Or as catcher Alex Avila put it, "As far as the three games we've played, I'll take 2-1 with Max [Scherzer] going tomorrow."
Scoring six more runs behind Scherzer would no doubt make him feel better. For most of Sunday, that number seemed impossible.
The combination of a quick strike second-inning at the start of the winning streak and Chien-Ming Wang's struggles for the Jays made that rally seem more like a retort than a comeback. Cleveland starter Corey Kluber's pitching made Sunday's challenge more daunting.
Kluber allowed a baserunner in all but one inning, but kept them stranded with 10 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. Seven of those strikeouts came with runners on base. When Cabrera singled and Prince Fielder walked with nobody out in the sixth, Kluber struck out the side swinging, shrugging off the pair's first double steal.
"That guy's stuff was very good, and we swung at a lot of balls because the stuff was good," Leyland said.
For most of the afternoon, his only mistake was a pitch that would've been a quality first-pitch strike to most hitters. His fastball to Cabrera was on the inside corner, a pitch many Major Leaguers would take.
"It was probably in off the plate, and he hit it a long way," Francona said. "And to Corey's credit, he didn't vary from being in attack mode."
Cabrera not only swung, he pulled it halfway up the left-field bleachers. Even Leyland, who has said several times this year he's running out of things to say about his All-Star third baseman, had to say something about that.
"He does things that I just marvel at," Leyland said. "I don't know how. The guy's throwing 95 mph, you haven't seen a pitch all day, and you go up there, the first pitch you see you hit out of the ballpark. Not many people can do that."
Nobody else could do much with Kluber, who retired the leadoff man in the seventh and had nine-hole hitter Ramon Santiago up with a 6-1 lead when things turned.
Four hits and two runs later -- including Cabrera's 90th RBI of the season -- Joe Smith had to escape a jam by retiring Fielder as the potential tying run, then Jhonny Peralta as the potential go-ahead tally with the bases loaded. Vinnie Pestano wasn't so fortunate against the top of the Tigers order after putting two on to begin the next inning.
Hunter jumped a hanging offspeed pitch for his second home run in about 24 hours and his 17th career homer at Progressive Field, tying him with Cabrera and Jermaine Dye for most among opposing players.
"We were down, 6-1, and we battled back bit by bit," Hunter said. "We were able to tie the game up and give ourselves a chance. But at the same time, we lost."
Had Victor Martinez followed back-to-back two-out hits from Cabrera and Fielder with a hit of his own, Evan Reed would have been in line for his first Major League win in a game he joined late. He woke up Sunday morning at Triple-A Toledo and had to drive into town to replace the injured Darin Downs.
Cody Allen's strikeout of Martinez stranded the 11th Detroit runner on base. Moments later, Alburquerque's leadoff walk to Nick Swisher resembled his early-season command woes. Alburquerque fell behind Brantley on a 3-1 count, then watched Brantley send a 95-mph fastball out to the opposite field.
"Al was having a hard time throwing the slider for a strike, so we had to go with the fastball," Avila said. "It wasn't much mystery there. You just have to give him credit for getting it out in front."
For the first time in nearly a week, the Tigers never got in front. They came tantalizingly close.