CLEVELAND -- Miguel Cabrera says it's all about wins, not what the Tigers' stars do. The dejected Indians fans filing out of Progressive Field as midnight approached Wednesday evening might have disagreed.
The Tigers didn't just pull out another win in this divisional clash. Their 6-5 win in 14 innings lasted long enough to break Cleveland's hearts twice. The silence that fell over the crowd as Cabrera's go-ahead homer in the eighth inning ruined Danny Salazar's gem of an outing was the first occasion. The emotion from Prince Fielder after rolling into second base on his go-ahead double in the 14th inning, his first RBI since July 31, was the other.
"It's not about one guy. It's not about what this guy's going to do tonight," Cabrera said. "It's about getting clutch in the right time. Prince did it today. [Alex] Avila did it the other night. Our pitching being extended, starting pitchers, relievers, everybody's coming together right now."
The Indians are the team that finds storybook endings this season, but they can't find the script against the team they're pursuing. The Tigers, winners of 11 in a row overall and 11 of their last 12 against the Indians, are simply overwhelming teams right now. Some days, they do it from the first inning. Some days, they take a little longer.
They've won three 14-inning games on the road this season, but none bigger than this. It might not finish the American League Central race, but with a season-high six-game lead for Detroit and 16-game winner Max Scherzer taking the mound looking for a four-game sweep on Thursday, it puts the Tigers in clear command.
"Good pitching beats good hitting every day," Torii Hunter said. "You look at [Justin] Masterson, you look at [Corey] Kluber, who's filthy, and then you look at the Salazar kid, they have great arms over there, but we just don't give up. We're professional hitters. We know how to play the game the right way. And we know how to come through when we need to."
The Tigers built their longest winning streak since September 2011 on the strength of their starting pitching, 8-0 with a 1.25 ERA over the previous 10 games. Doug Fister showed signs of threatening that roll, but recovered for six innings of two-run ball.
He kept Detroit alive for a late-inning rally, but Fister could not help Tigers hitters against hard-throwing rookie Salazar and his 100 mph fastball in his second Major League start. Salazar's 10 strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings included each of Cabrera's first three at-bats, and the top four hitters in Detroit's lineup the second time through the order.
"That kid was really something special," manager Jim Leyland said.
Salazar used a 99 mph fastball to set up Cabrera to freeze on a changeup his first time up. The next two meetings, Salazar overpowered Cabrera swinging at 99 and 100 mph fastballs.
Cabrera has struck out four times in a game just twice in his career, and never against one pitcher. Still, Salazar's success earned him the chance to face him again once Hunter's two-out single extended the eighth inning for Cabrera with the tying run on.
"That would've been his last hitter," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "but to that point I would've had a hard time justifying having him not pitch. That's how good I thought he was."
Asked if he wanted another shot, Cabrera surprised with his answer.
"I don't want to face him the fourth time," he said. "I was saying to myself, 'It's time to bring in the bullpen.' And when they decide to leave him in there, I say, 'Let's grind out this at-bat, try to make something happen.'"
Salazar's first pitch to Cabrera this time came in at 96 mph. Cabrera sent it out with similar authority, quieting the crowd as the ball soared towards the seats beyond right-center field.
"The young kid got him pretty much all night," Leyland said. "The last time, he just didn't get him."
Cabrera's 33rd home run and 102nd RBI gave the Tigers a 4-3 lead. Two batters into the bottom of the inning, the Indians had the potential tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position after Drew Smyly gave up back-to-back doubles from Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana.
With the Tigers sorely in need of a strikeout or two, Bruce Rondon replaced Smyly and came out firing. Rondon threw eight consecutive pitches at 102 or 103 mph in the inning, striking out Ryan Raburn, but Yan Gomes handled the 103 mph heater well enough to hit a ground ball to short. With the infield at normal depth, fearing a go-ahead single, the groundout brought in Brantley with the tying run.
Between Rondon, Jose Veras and Jeremy Bonderman in his Tigers return, Detroit's bullpen retired 13 consecutive batters before Drew Stubbs' 12th-inning single, and Bonderman erased him on a double play a few pitches later. The Tigers put a runner on in every extra inning, but didn't advance one into scoring position until Austin Jackson legged out a leadoff double in the 14th and took third base on Hunter's fly out to right.
With Cabrera pulled for defensive purposes after his home run, rookie second baseman Hernan Perez awaited. Once Bryan Shaw (2-3) lost Perez to a walk, lefty Marc Rzepczynski had to deal with Fielder, 1-for-5 with a walk and three strikeouts on the night entering the at-bat.
Rzepczynski put Fielder in an 0-2 count, trying to set him up to chase. His 0-2 slider got just enough of the outside corner that Fielder went with it and laced it into left-center with authority.
It was Fielder's first RBI of August, but it was a big one. The clap into the sky at second base showed it.
"Prince competes as hard as anybody," Leyland said. "He wants to win, and he competes his tail off. And that's why he gets hits off left-handed pitchers, because he battles his tail off."
They all do. The Tigers don't always dominate, but on nights like this, they break hearts.