CLEVELAND -- Since April, they've overcome bad weather, late-inning deficits and lingering doubts.
It's been a season of comebacks for the Cleveland Indians, who pulled off their most important one yet.
"This symbolizes the way our year has gone," pitcher Paul Byrd said. "Just when you think we're going to fold, something miraculous happens."
Casey Blake homered with one out in the 11th inning as the Indians rallied for a 6-5 come-from-behind win Monday night over the Detroit Tigers, who slid 5½ games back in an AL Central race that could soon be over.
Blake turned on a 1-2 pitch from Zach Miner (3-4) and drove it into the left-field bleachers for his second game-ending homer in four days, a shot that lowered the Indians' magic number to seven and inched them closer to their first postseason appearance since 2001.
The Indians, who collapsed in the final week of the 2005 season and missed the playoffs, trailed 5-2 in the eighth before rallying to take the opener of a three-game series that could decide the division.
As Blake's homer cleared the wall and he began rounding the bases, the Indians, who spent most of the game on the top step of the dugout, poured onto the field as Cleveland fans danced in the aisles.
Blake, who pumped his fists in delight during a home-run sprint, was greeted at the plate by his teammates, who pounded him in celebration and then hopped in unison as fireworks exploded above Jacobs Field.
"It's probably the biggest game we've played all year," said Blake, who felt winning the opener was imperative. "First, second, third. We need them all. But to lose the first one would have been tough. That's why I was so fired up."
Rafael Betancourt (5-1) struck out four in two scoreless innings as the Indians improved to 18-5 since Aug. 25.
Detroit dropped 3½ games behind the New York Yankees, who lead the wild-card race.
"We're going to look back at every loss right now," Tigers starter Kenny Rogers said, "and this is one we thought we had control of."
Peralta's second homer, a two-run drive in the eighth off Zumaya, tied it 5-5.
The Indians, who kicked around the ball in the fourth, were held to two runs and five hits in the first seven innings by Rogers, Detroit's Mr. October last season, who gave the Tigers a September start they had to have.
But Zumaya, the rocket-throwing right-hander who was beaten by the Indians in extras on Aug. 23 at Comerica Park, couldn't protect a 5-2 lead.
Grady Sizemore walked leading off and Asdrubal Cabrera, who seems to be in the middle of every Indians rally, singled. Zumaya retired Travis Hafner on a grounder that advanced both runners before Victor Martinez's RBI groundout brought Cleveland within 5-3.
Peralta, who homered to straightaway center field leading off the fourth, drove a 1-0 pitch the opposite way and all Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez could do was stand and watch it sail into Detroit's bullpen.
Despite the loss, the Tigers haven't given up yet.
"We still have 11 games left," Miner said. "We were dead and buried five days ago and got five wins. We played good tonight and could have made it six."
Rogers, who had two stints on the disabled list, pitched a season-high seven innings. The crafty 42-year-old also picked Jason Michaels off first base in the sixth inning, giving him 91 career pickoffs to tie Mark Langston for the most in the majors since the statistic started being kept in 1974.
Alternating between a cigar and cigarette as he reclined at his office desk before the game, Tigers manager Jim Leyland looked as if he was getting ready for a spring training game in March, not a September showdown with playoff implications.
He praised the Indians, his own team's perseverance and then summed up the Tigers' chances of catching Cleveland.
"We got a shot," he said.
It's a longer one now.
"We were six outs away from a win and being 3½ out," Leyland said. "I'm not trying to say everything is perfect, because it's not. We're down, but we had a good chance to win."
The Indians were loose, too, before their biggest game this season. A few of them battled in a baseball video game at the far end of the clubhouse while outfielder Kenny Lofton napped on a leather couch.
However, the division leaders appeared to tense up in the fourth when two errors led to Detroit scoring three times for a 5-1 lead.
- Ordonez got his 200th hit in the eighth and became the first Tigers player with 200 hits since Alan Trammell (205) in 1987.
- With Polanco scoring his 100th run, the Tigers have four players -- Ordonez, Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield are the others -- with at least 100 runs for the first time since 1950 when George Kell (114), Johnny Lipon (104), Jerry Priddy (104) and Hoot Evers (100) all reached the century mark.
- The Tigers and Indians have finished 1-2 in the same season twice, most recently in 1940, when Detroit edged Cleveland by one game.