CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Indians showed some fight.
They battled the first-place Detroit Tigers with everything they had for three games, and Thursday night, the Indians even turned on each other.
For manager Manny Acta, that was a great sign.
Justin Verlander stopped Cleveland cold in the series finale, becoming baseball's first 17-game winner as the division-leading Tigers avoided being swept by Cleveland and opened a three-game lead in the AL Central with a 4-3 win over the second-place Indians.
Verlander (17-5) allowed three hits and struck out 10 in seven dominant innings to earn career win No. 100 as the Tigers ended a 13-game losing streak in Cleveland.
In taking the series finale, the Tigers kept some distance over the Indians, who did trim one game off Detroit's lead over the past three days. The teams will play 10 more times this season, including a season-ending three-game series at Comerica Park from Sept. 26-28.
"It was a great series," said Acta, who was barely audible after losing his voice. "We came in trying to shorten up the distance and we did. The goal was to sweep them, but if you can't sweep them, two out of three isn't bad.
"We played very well the whole series."
The finale started with some fireworks.
The Indians fell behind 1-0 in the first, surrendering an unearned run — an even bigger mistake against a pitcher like Verlander.
Austin Jackson led off with a routine grounder against Fausto Carmona (5-12), but third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall's throw sailed over Santana's head and into the photographer's pen. Jackson moved up on a groundout and scored when Magglio Ordonez hit a sinking liner that became a sacrifice fly.
After the third out, Cabrera and Santana went nose-to-nose in the dugout, screaming at each other before being separated by Carmona and others.
"Asdrubal confronted Carlos about not catching the throw," Acta said. "Carlos didn't like the way he talked to him. That's fire. I like it. People care. That's all I can ask for."
Cabrera didn't speak with reporters, grabbing a beverage from a clubhouse refrigerator and staying away from his locker.
Acta felt Santana should have made a better play.
"It's a catchable throw," Acta said. "He gator-armed the ball and didn't get it. He was trying to catch the ball and stay on the bag."
Santana, normally Cleveland's catcher, is playing first this season for the first time. He said he and Cabrera have had their say and moved on.
"He talked to me about catching the ball," Santana said. "These things happen in baseball. We're friends. Everything is good."
Santana homered for Cleveland, which has continued to stay in the race despite a rash of injuries and a sometimes stagnant offense.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland expects the Indians to stay around until the end.
"They're not going anywhere," he said. "They're for real. They're going to be there. We know that."
Verlander didn't do it alone. He got some help from Jackson, who made a sensational, leaping catch against the center-field wall in the sixth to preserve Detroit's 4-3 lead.
With a runner on first and one out, Santana sent a drive to straightaway center. Jackson sprinted back, tracking the ball with each stride as neared the warning track. He stopped under the wall, jumped and snagged Santana's deep shot that looked as if it would have stayed in the park.
Verlander waved his glove in thanks to Jackson, who has made similar plays this season.
"He seems to make the play seem routine, when it's not," Verlander said. "He made a fantastic play once again."
Verlander led 4-0 after the Tigers scored three times in the second. And with one of baseball's best on the mound, that deficit must have felt like 40-0 to the Indians.
However, Santana hit a one-out homer, his 18th, in the bottom half to give Cleveland new life. Then, some uncharacteristic wildness by Verlander in the third helped the Indians close within one.
He walked No. 9 hitter Lou Marson with one out and put rookie Jason Kipnis on with a two-out walk. Cabrera fell behind 1-2 before pulling a two-run double into the right-field corner. As Cabrera scooted into second standing up, Verlander dropped his head in disappointment.
It was the only time he showed emotion. Otherwise, Verlander was cold and nasty.
"That's not me," Verlander said of the walks, "especially not me this year."
NOTES: Carmona has pitched well lately, but has little to show for it. He's 1-3 with a 3.10 ERA in seven starts since June 26. ... Indians OF Shin-Soo Choo, out since late June with a broken thumb, went 0 for 4 at Class-A Lake County. Acta said the club will decide in the next few days where he'll play next. ... Indians OF Michael Brantley missed his second straight game with a sore right wrist the Indians believe is getting better. ... Cleveland opens a three-game series Friday with Minnesota. Justin Masterson (9-7), who pitched just two innings before being pulled after a 2-hour rain delay on Tuesday, will come back and start on short rest against Carl Pavano (6-9).