Indians down Tigers 4-2, reduce magic number to three games

CLEVELAND – C.C. Sabathia upgraded his Cy Young resume and Cleveland finished declawing the Detroit Tigers with a 4-2 win on yesterday that completed a three-game sweep and reduced the Indians’ magic number for clinching the AL Central to three.

When Cleveland, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, was in the midst of its worst stretch of the season in early August, Sabathia (18-7) boldly predicted the Indians would win the division anyway.

Looks like the big lefty was right.

Casey Blake homered off Nate Robertson (8-12) as the Indians improved to 20-5 since Aug. 25 and moved into a temporary tie with the Boston Red Sox for the majors’ best record.

In winning three straight over the Tigers, Cleveland opened a 7 1/2-game lead over the defending AL champs, who led in every game of the series but couldn’t put the Indians away.

This was not the sweep Detroit had in mind. The Tigers fell five games back in the wild-card race behind the New York Yankees, who played yesterday night.

Rafael Betancourt, an emerging star in Cleveland’s bullpen, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and Joe Borowski pitched the ninth for his league-leading 42nd save – and biggest one to date.

Sabathia, who went 17-5 as a rookie in ’01, set a career-high for wins by allowing two runs and five hits in seven innings. The 27-year-old gave up both runs in the third, but settled down and retired 12 of the last 13.

Sabathia’s case to become Cleveland’s first Cy Young Award winner since Gaylord Perry in 1972, is a strong one. He leads the majors in innings pitched and is ranked at the top – or near it – in virtually every category among AL pitchers.

But his 99th career win put the Indians at the brink of playing meaningful games in October, something the 6-foot-7 Sabathia has often said is much more important to him than winning individual awards.

Just as they did in the first two games, the Indians fell behind before rallying.

Trailing 2-1 in the fifth, Cleveland scored three runs off Robertson, who gave up four runs in seven innings.