DETROIT -- By July, Alex Avila had gone from an unknown to the American League's starting catcher in the All-Star Game.
What he has done in August has been more impressive.
Instead, Avila has hit .420 in the stretch with a .531 on-base percentage and four homers. On Friday night, he homered in first-place Detroit's 4-1 victory over second-place Cleveland.
"This has been very impressive, both mentally and physically," Leyland said. "I've never seen a catcher that gets hit by foul tips as often as Alex does, but he keeps going out there every day and doing the job."
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Avila brushed off any praise, saying that the cooler weather has been the most important factor. But his teammates are gushing over his performance in the AL Central pennant race.
"What Alex is doing is amazing," said Max Scherzer, Friday's winning pitcher who went seven innings. "He's irreplaceable right now."
The Indians could have taken over the division lead with a sweep of the three-game series, but Scherzer's pitching and three Detroit homers mean they are 2 ½ games back.
"The way they are playing, the way we are playing and even the way Chicago is playing, I don't think this is going to be decided in the next couple days," Indians starter Josh Tomlin said.
Scherzer (13-7) allowed one run, five hits and a walk while throwing a career-high 127 pitches.
"My arm feels great right now," said Scherzer, who got an extra day of rest after throwing 120 pitches in his last start. "I had all my pitches working tonight, even my slider, which I can't usually throw that much against a left-handed lineup."
Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde finished, with the latter pitching the ninth for his 36th save in as many opportunities. Valverde was coming off Wednesday's loss to the Twins, where he allowed two ninth-inning runs in a tie game.
Tomlin (12-6) gave up four runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings.
"I was happy with the way I threw the ball for five innings," he said. "After that, I needed to make better pitches."
Cleveland got a run back in the seventh. Carlos Santana led off the inning with a single, and after Scherzer struck out the next two hitters, Lonnie Chisenhall beat out an infield grounder when first baseman Miguel Cabrera's throw pulled Scherzer off the bag. Santana took third on the play and scored on a wild pitch.
"Tomlin gave us a chance, but we never really got anything going against Scherzer," Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. "We just couldn't score."
Detroit made it 4-1 in their half of the inning. Avila hit a two-out, 400-foot homer, and Jhonny Peralta hit the next pitch for his 18th homer.
"Their pitcher did a great job, but we finally hit some balls where no one can catch them," Leyland said. "There's no defense against three home runs."
- The Indians juggled their roster before the game, placing INF Jason Kipnis [hamstrin] on the DL and sending OF Ezequiel Carrera to Triple-A Columbus. To replace them, the Indians recalled OF Shelley Duncan and INF Luis Valbuena from Columbus.
- The game drew a sellout crowd of 44,222, the biggest since 44,799 attended the home opener against Kansas City.
- The teams continue the series Saturday night with Detroit's Doug Fister (4-13) making his third start as a Tiger while David Huff (1-1) pitches for Cleveland.
- The Tigers announced before the game that RHP Al Alburquerque [concussion] will be out for at least another 10 days. Alburquerque was eligible to come off the 7-day concussion DL on Friday.
- After the game, the Tigers called up INF Brandon Inge from Toledo and sent down OF Andy Dirks. Inge is expected to platoon with Wilson Betemit at third base.