CLEVELAND – Anytime Justin Verlander is on the mound with a lead in the seventh inning, the Detroit Tigers can usually count on a victory.
That pattern changed in stunning fashion Thursday night.
Cleveland scored four times on six hits in the seventh inning against the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner to beat the Tigers 5-3 and knock them out of first place in the AL Central.
Detroit dropped a half-game behind first-place Chicago. The Indians, who took two of three from the Tigers, are 3½ games out.
Verlander (11-6) took a 4-2 lead and a three-hitter into the seventh. Considering he came in with a 6-1 record in seven outings since June 14, there was every reason to believe the game was in good hands.
Only this time it didn't happen and Verlander placed the blame directly on himself.
"Horrible execution of pitches," he said. "I'm extremely disappointed in myself for not going out there with a two-run lead in the seventh to shut the door and give us that 'W."
Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner homered on the first two pitches in the inning to tie the game. Asdrubal Cabrera's single put Cleveland ahead and Jason Kipnis followed with another run-scoring hit to put the Tigers down by two.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland understands Verlander's late collapse will be met with shock and surprise.
"For most people it is, but when you've been around long enough you know it happens to everybody," he said. "Tonight he just didn't close it down."
Indians manager Manny Acta knew it didn't look good for his team facing a late deficit against the best pitcher in baseball.
"You've got to give it to the guys to come back against a guy like Verlander," he said.
Santana slammed the first pitch of the seventh deep into the seats in right-center for his eighth homer. Hafner hit a towering shot to the same area for his 10th of the year.
Jose Lopez singled before Verlander got two quick outs. Shin-Soo Choo singled and Cabrera, 6-for-43 with 19 strikeouts lifetime against Verlander, grounded a single between first and second.
Even though it appeared right fielder Brennan Boesch's throw had a chance to get Lopez at home, first baseman Prince Fielder cut the ball off as Choo took third and Cabrera scrambled to second. Kipnis, who had a sacrifice fly to tie it at 1 in the first, hit a soft liner that shortstop Ramon Santiago, couldn't hold onto and Choo scored for a 5-3 lead.
"I threw pitches in homer-happy areas to lead off the inning and they hit 'em," Verlander said. "I didn't make a smart pitch to Lopez and then a couple of non hard-hit balls. I can't complain about the ones that weren't hard hit. I put myself in that situation to begin with."
Joe Smith (7-2) threw two pitches to get the win. He got Miguel Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending double play in the top half of the seventh.
Vinnie Pestano pitched the eighth and Chris Perez the ninth for his 29th save in 31 chances. The Indians have won seven of nine from the Tigers with Perez saving each victory. He closed this one by fanning Quintin Berry with runners on first and third.
Austin Jackson had three hits and Delmon Young homered for Detroit, which lost for only the fourth time in 18 games.
Meanwhile, Verlander looked like vintage Verlander. After cruising through the second and third, he had to work out of a fourth-inning jam. The first two runnners reached base, but Verlander got Santana to bounce into a double play and retired Hafner on a ground out. He retired seven of nine going into the seventh and lost to Cleveland for the second time this season.
It was the 63rd straight start in which Verlander worked at least six innings. He dropped to 40-12 over that span, which is the longest streak since Hall of Famer Steve Carlton's 69-game run for Philadelphia from 1979-82.
NOTES: Rain delayed the start 26 minutes. ... The Tigers open a three-game series Friday in Toronto. Detroit's Rick Porcello faces Carlos Villanueva in a matchup of right-handers. ... The Tigers outrighted LHP Kelvin De La Cruz to Double-A Erie. He was designated for assignment Monday. ... Detroit went 6-for-32 (.188) with runners in scoring position in the series.