CLEVELAND (DFP) -- Ignited by the first back-to-back homers this year from Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers took a six-run lead by the fourth inning today. It might sound like Anibal Sanchez cruised to the 9-4 win he posted over the Indians in his return to the Tigers rotation.
But Sanchez got three outs in a third-inning jam that kept this game, series and for now AL Central race titled decidedly in the Tigers' favor. He limited the Indians to one run in what could have been a rally that wiped out the 4-0 lead they had just built in the top of the third.
When the Tigers added three runs in the fourth, they had a 7-1 lead and were on the way to their fifth straight victory. In this winning streak, the Tigers have outscored the opposition, 40-13.
In the first two games of this four-game series, the Tigers have outscored the Indians, 16-4, to raise their Central lead to 3 1/2 games on the Tribe.
Sanchez made his first start in three weeks after being sidelined with a strained right shoulder.
He didn't allow a hit in the first two innings. In the top of the third, Cabrera broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer to left-center off right-hander Carlos Carrasco, and two pitches later Fielder launched a high-arc drive into the seats in right. Victor Martinez followed with a double and scored on Jhonny Peralta's single.
Sanchez gave up singles to the first three batters in the bottom of the inning. Then Drew Stubbs stole third easily, and so it was first and third, none out, with the potential tying run at the plate with the heart of the order up.
Asdrubal Cabrera hit a fly to shallow right. Torii Hunter charged in for the catch, and Stubbs had to hold at third. Jason Kipnis, the hottest Indian, grounded right to Fielder at first, and Stubbs had to hold again. Sanchez struck out Nick Swisher swinging on a full-count 90 m.p.h. pitch, and there it was for the first time in a while: the Sanchez fist pump as he celebrated a big third out.
Manager Jim Leyland had said he would limit Sanchez to fewer pitches than usual in his first start back. He lifted the right-hander after five innings and 73 pitches.
A quartet of Tigers relievers pitched the final four innings: Phil Coke, Luke Putkonen, Drew Smyly and Darin Downs. With two out in the ninth, Downs allowed a two-run homer to Ryan Raburn, the 10th for the man who hit one for the Tigers last season.
Contact John Lowe: 313-223-4053 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@freeptigers.