Leading by two in the ninth, closer Chris Perez (0-1) allowed three runs on two hits, three walks and a wild pitch. Pinch-hitter Johnny Damon walked with the bases loaded and two outs to tie the game, and a wild pitch to Scott Sizemore scored Carlos Guillen with the winning run.
"The walk to [shortstop Ramon] Santiago [with two on and two out] really hurt," Perez said. "I needed to go after him, but my pitches were leaking a bit to him and then again to Damon. There are no excuses. I still had a chance to get out of there with the win."
Cleveland led 7-1 after Jhonny Peralta hit a two-run homer in the sixth, giving starter Jake Westbrook a chance at his first victory in more than two years. Westbrook pitched like a cagey veteran Sunday afternoon -- or how a staff ace is supposed to pitch even when he doesn't have his best stuff.
There were runners on base throughout the 5 2/3 innings that Westbrook pitched. Two Tigers were stranded in the first. Westbrook then gave up a pair of singles and a walk in the third. But a laser throw from Shin-Soo Choo in right to catcher Lou Marson nabbed Don Kelly at home for the third out.
Westbrook hit consecutive batters with two outs in the fourth, but stranded two more runners. Miguel Cabrera hit an RBI single in the fifth, but Westbrook struck out Guillen and Brandon Inge to end another threat.
Magglio Ordonez singled with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth, cutting Detroit's deficit to 7-3 and ending Westbrook's day at 105 pitches. He allowed nine hits, three walks and hit two batters, and exited in line for the victory.
"I felt closer to where I want to be out there today, and I felt like I made some good pitches when I had to," Westbrook said. "But I'm at fault [for the loss] as much as anyone because I couldn't get through that sixth inning. I just can't let so many runners get on base."
Westbrook admits that it may be a few more starts before he gets his command back to where it was three years ago, before he began having elbow problems that sidelined him for nearly two years.
"I'm still a little erratic," he said. "I need to find some consistency."
If the Indians can take any good news out of this game, it is that the offense broke out of an early-season slump. The Indians got to Verlander early, which is no easy task. Before the contest, manager Manny Acta called Verlander one of the "elite pitchers" in the game. The key when facing a guy like Verlander, he said, is to have quality at-bats and work the pitch count high.
That is exactly what happened in the first inning, as the Indians battered the 2009 American League All-Star for five runs on three hits and a pair of walks. The big blast came on a two-out grand slam by Luis Valbuena that cleared the right-field fence by no more than a couple of feet. It was Valbuena's first career grand slam.
Earlier in the inning, Travis Hafner picked up his third RBI of the season on a deep sacrifice fly to left.
"It's a shame, because it feels like we really wasted a good hitting performance against Verlander," Acta said. "You don't know when you may be able to get six runs off him again."
Acta said before the game that he wasn't worried about the lack of home runs early in the season, and the Tribe responded by hitting three on Sunday. Acta didn't feel his players were pressing, and said that it is typical for pitchers to have the advantage in cold-weather games early in the year. The afternoon temperature, by 3:30, was 62 degrees and the Tribe's bats seemed to warm up at the same time.
"We have at least four guys who project to hit over 20 home runs this year," Acta said.
Choo drilled his first home run of the year, a seventh inning solo shot off reliever Eddie Bonine to put the Indians up 8-3. But RBI hits by Sizemore and Inge in the next two innings set up the dramatic finish. Five Cleveland relievers combined to give up six runs on nine hits.
The Tigers threatened the modern-day Major League record for stranded runners in a game, finishing with 18 overall. Only four teams have stranded more runners since 1920, with the all-time high set at 20.
"I said it earlier this weekend that we need to throw more strikes, because what happens earlier in the game catches up to you," Acta said. "In the last few innings, we kept turning over their lineup so quickly that it seemed we were facing Ordonez and Cabrera every inning."