CLEVELAND -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland could have authored the game Wednesday night, the way his words unfolded Wednesday afternoon. He probably wouldn't have written it as the tragedy it became if he had his choice.
"Look at most of our games: Both teams have enough guys on during the course of a nine-inning game. For the most part, there's enough guys out there," Leyland said before the 4-2 loss to the Indians. "That's why the guys who drive them in make the money. Simple. Count them tonight. See how many guys are on base. Add them up."
They added up into double digits. Except for a couple of runs, they didn't get in.
"You can get them out there," Leyland said after the game, "but you've got to get them in. It's pretty simple. No rocket science to this one. I can talk about it until I'm blue in the face."
As the result, Cleveland's lead in the American League Central is beginning to build, now five games over third-place Detroit. The Tigers, meanwhile, fell to three games under .500 for the first time since May 4 of last year, the week after they were swept in last season's first visit to Cleveland.
"It's always good to get wins against these guys," said Jason Kipnis, who scored the go-ahead run in the eighth. "It doesn't matter if it's in May and it doesn't matter if it's in September. They mean the same now that they do then."
The Tigers were further back than this last May and ended up running away with the division, but they had to pull out close games like these to do it. They believe they can do the same, but they know they can't do it like this.
"We're a much better team than this," Leyland said. "We just [need to] go out and play like it. Or hit like it."
How they get to that is the question.
"Obviously, if we knew what the problem was, we'd fix it," Prince Fielder said. "It's not going that way right now."
The Tigers had the bases loaded against the Indians' bullpen in the seventh and eighth innings Wednesday. The first scoring chance ended with Miguel Cabrera arguing with umpires and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon ejected over a 3-0 pitch both felt should've been called a ball. Instead of a run coming across courtesy of ball four, Cabrera grounded out to second. The second rally -- a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity -- ended with the Tigers looking at themselves.
The crucial play in Detroit's half of the eighth was a one-out ground ball fielded by the first baseman to throw home to try for an out at the plate. So was the play that scored Cleveland's go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning.
The first one came off the bat of Ramon Santiago with the bases loaded and one out after Indians setup man Vinnie Pestano struck out Jhonny Peralta on three pitches. Casey Kotchman charged Santiago's grounder and fired home for the forceout to retire Fielder.
Once Pestano spotted a full-count offering on the outside corner to pinch-hitter Alex Avila, Indians pitching had stranded 10 Tigers on base for the night. The Tigers, meanwhile, fell to 3-for-19 with runners in scoring position this series.
The tables were turned on Fielder in the bottom of the inning, but he didn't have the benefit of a forceout. He also didn't have the benefit of a slower runner. Kipnis' one-out infield single made him the lead runner before Asdrubal Cabrera's double moved him to third.
Fielder said he did not rush the throw once he fielded Travis Hafner's chopper.
"No. I just didn't hit [catcher Alex Avila] in the glove," Fielder said. "I've got to get it to him. Just didn't get it to him in the glove. ... You've got a quick runner at third. Just gotta try to get it to him. Unfortunately, I didn't get it to him in the chest."
The ball bounced in the dirt and took a higher hop than Avila expected, skipping past him and turning a 2-2 tie into a 3-2 Cleveland lead.
"That's what happens when you're not going real good," Leyland said. "That's part of the game. I have no problem with that."
The Tigers' infield defense is assembled around offensive production. Leyland expects them to make the routine plays. This went beyond that. The runners stranded in the previous two innings arguably put them in that position.
He has the guys who can drive the runners in. Now he needs the runs.
"I assume Justin [Verlander] is going to pitch well," Leyland said, "but [Doug] Fister pitched pretty well. I felt good about Fister tonight, but we didn't score. You always try to look at the bright side of things, but you still have to score runs."