DETROIT — Terry Francona was one step ahead of Tigers manager Brad Ausmus for one pitch on Sunday.
As it turned out, that was all the Indians needed.
Francisco Lindor broke a scoreless tie with a two-run triple in the sixth inning, and Cleveland went on to a 4-0 win over Detroit behind seven strong innings from Cody Anderson.
The Indians put their first two batters on in the sixth to bring up Lindor, who leads the American League in sacrifice bunts despite arriving in the majors June 15. No surprise, he squared away on the first two pitches, missing the first and taking the second for a ball.
Ausmus went to the mound and Francona knew why — the Tigers had messed up their bunt defense on each of the first two pitches.
“When Brad went out there, I knew they were trying to fix their bunt play, so I yelled from the dugout until I got Frankie’s attention and told him to swing,” Francona said. “I knew he was going to get a good pitch to hit.”
Sure enough, Justin Verlander threw a high fastball — a tough pitch to bunt.
The 21-year-old Lindor, though, is a .307 hitter with gap power, and he knew what was coming. He drilled the pitch into right-center for a triple and a 2-0 lead.
Carlos Santana drove Lindor home with a single and, with Anderson shutting down Detroit’s offense, the Indians were in control.
“You just have to tip your cap to Lindor and Tito there,” Verlander said. “Tito gave him the green light, and with the whole world thinking he was bunting, he put a good swing on it.”
Anderson (3-3) entered with a 14.04 ERA in two starts against AL Central opposition, but barely broke a sweat in his first shot at the Tigers. He gave up only two hits, walked two and struck out three.
“Cody was tremendous out there,” Francona said. “He’s out there battling Verlander in a game where neither team could get anything going, and he made outstanding pitches every time he needed one.”
The Indians won for the eighth time in 11 games. They began the day six games behind Texas for the second AL wild card, though there are three teams between them.
Detroit (62-74) has dropped 13 of 16 and matched a season worst at 12 games below .500.
Verlander (3-7) allowed three runs and seven hits with two walks in seven innings, but was done in yet again by a lack of run support. The Tigers are averaging only 2.8 runs per nine innings with Verlander on the mound, as opposed to 4.46 runs with anyone else pitching.
Neither team had a hit until Dixon Machado’s bunt single off Anderson in the fourth. Verlander, who took a no-hit bid into the ninth two starts ago, lost this one with two outs in the fifth when Abraham Almonte tripled over Anthony Gose’s head in center field.
The Tigers had runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth and fifth, but Miguel Cabrera and James McCann hit into rally-killing double plays.
Cleveland’s sixth-inning rally started when Michael Martinez singled and Jason Kipnis hit a grounder up the middle that second baseman Andrew Romine tried to turn into a 4-6-3 double play. Martinez beat the flip to second and, after a short review, Kipnis was ruled to have beaten the relay to first, putting two on with none out.
That’s when Lindor struck, and the Tigers managed just one baserunner in the last four innings.
Martinez drove in the final run with an RBI single in the ninth.
Indians: RHP Carlos Carrasco (shoulder) didn’t report any soreness following his bullpen session on Saturday, so he remains scheduled to start Tuesday in Chicago. Carrasco, out since Aug. 22, will replace Corey Kluber (hamstring) in the rotation.
Tigers: 2B Ian Kinsler, who had played in 133 of Detroit’s first 135 games, was scheduled for a day off. Kinsler, though, pinch-hit for Romine in the eighth. … J.D. Martinez, hit on the left triceps by a pitch Saturday, was in the lineup after reporting no ill effects.
Indians: Cleveland opens a three-game series in Chicago with a holiday afternoon game against the White Sox. Trevor Bauer (10-11, 4.56 ERA) is scheduled to face White Sox ace Chris Sale (12-7, 3.29), who has a 3.86 ERA in 23 games against the Indians — his highest vs. any AL Central opponent.
Tigers: Detroit remains home for a Labor Day afternoon game against Tampa Bay in the start of a three-game series. Randy Wolf (0-3, 6.11) will pitch against Rays LHP Drew Smyly (2-2, 3.11), sent from Detroit to Tampa Bay last season as part of the David Price trade. Smyly will be facing his former teammates for the first time.