CLEVELAND -- Their big lead in the division has dwindled, their road record has dropped and their confidence is drooping.
The Detroit Tigers, baseball's best team and warmest story for four months, could be headed for trouble.
Rookie Jeremy Sowers won his third straight start and fifth consecutive decision with six solid innings, leading the Cleveland Indians to a 4-2 win over the suddenly staggering Tigers on Friday night.
Following the game, Detroit manager Jim Leyland told his players they'd better fix things quickly.
His message? "If we want to play in October, we've all got to step it up," he said.
Sowers (6-3) gave up two runs in the second inning, but blanked the AL Central's top team for the four as the Indians snapped a four-game losing streak to Detroit. Cleveland is just 5-12 against the Tigers this season.
Detroit, which entered the weekend leading second-place Chicago by 5½ games, has lost three straight, six of eight, and is just 5-12 since Aug. 8 -- when the Tigers led their division by 10.
The Tigers, who were pounded 10-0 by the White Sox on Thursday, had five hits through the first two innings, but managed only one hit and one baserunner over the final seven, an infield single by Omar Infante in the fourth.
With September just days away, Leyland wants his players to understand that they haven't accomplished anything yet.
"You're not going to hope your way in or wish your way in (to the playoffs)," Leyland said. "You have to play your way in. If you want to play in the postseason, you've got to close the deal."
Carlos Guillen took his manager's opinion to heart.
"We're in a pennant race," the Tigers first baseman said. "We're not in the playoffs yet. We have to keep going and play hard. We know how to win. We've done a good job so far, but it's been different lately. We've been too relaxed. We've been giving to many at-bats away."
Making his first career start against Detroit, the 23-year-old Sowers allowed two runs and six hits, didn't walk a batter and struck out four. The left-hander is 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA in his past seven starts.
"He managed the trouble, made the pitches and took off from there," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
Fernando Cabrera pitched two perfect innings and Rafael Betancourt worked the ninth for his first save in four tries. Cleveland's newest closer Tom Mastny had the night off after pitching in Cleveland's previous two games.
The Indians handed Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman (11-6) just his second road loss this season. He gave up four runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings and remained winless in his last six starts.
Trailing 2-1, Cleveland scored three times in the third, and if not for a baserunning blunder, the Indians could have had more.
Grady Sizemore doubled leading off and hustled to third on Casey Blake's flyout to center. Leyland chose to walk Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner to set up a possible double play, but Victor Martinez sabotaged the strategy with a run-scoring single to tie it 2-2.
Shin-Soo Choo followed by ripping a grounder into the right-field corner to score Hafner, and Cleveland's left fielder was thinking triple all the way and never bothered to look at third-base coach Joel Skinner as he rounded second.
There was one little problem: the slow-footed Martinez stopped at third and Choo had nowhere to go and was tagged out after a brief rundown. Jhonny Peralta, though, came through with an RBI single to make it 4-2.
Since Aug. 9, the Indians, who were expected to contend this season, are a major league-best 12-4 with a roster full of youngsters.
"It's confidence inspiring to see what we've done," Sowers said. "We're getting an opportunity and having success. It's not all going to be cupcakes and ice cream. We're going to take some beat downs at some point."
- Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, who made his first major league start 70 years ago this week, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. On Aug. 23, 1936, the 17-year-old Feller struck out 15 St. Louis Browns and earned the first of his 266 career wins. At the time, the 15 Ks were two shy of the major league record.
- Sizemore has played in all 127 games this season and 160 consecutive games dating to last year. Joe Carter (1989) was the last Indians player to play in all 162 games.