His job in jeopardy after a trade earlier in the day, Cunningham bunted home the go-ahead run with a squeeze play, and the Indians beat Detroit 3-2 Tuesday night and moved within three games of the AL Central-leading Tigers.
"I can't worry about anything there except executing the play," said Cunningham, whose role as utility outfielder may come to an end Wednesday as the Indians need to drop a player to make room for veteran utilityman Brent Lillibridge.
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Cleveland acquired Lillibridge from Boston before the game, which turned out to be an exciting victory for the third-place Indians.
Lou Marson pinch ran for Hafner and took off for home as Cunningham, a defensive replacement hitting .175, dropped a bunt in front of the plate. Fister quickly got the ball and tried to shovel it to catcher Alex Avila. It rolled away, Marson scored, and Cunningham took second on the error.
"It was like my big truck was sitting on top of me and somebody lifted it off," Smith said of earning the win after blowing the shutout. "This was a total team win. The guys bounced right back after I messed up."
Chris Perez pitched the ninth for his 28th save in 30 chances.
Cleveland is 6-1 against the Tigers. Perez has saved each win. Five have been by two runs or fewer.
Vinnie Pestano pitched a scoreless eighth for Cleveland, which is 29-3 when the right-hander and Perez have been in the same game. The Indians are 20-45 in all other games.
Indians manager Manny Acta said confidence in the two relievers led to choosing to squeeze.
"If we take the lead, our chances are very good of winning with Pestano and Perez," Acta said. "Aaron executed very well, didn't give it away. Then Pestano and Perez took care of business."
Cunningham was elated to help.
"I'll do anything I can for this team because they've treated me great all year," he said. "If I had gotten a few more hits, they would have given me more playing time. It's great to get this big win and we'll just have to see what happens from here."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland praised Acta's decision to squeeze.
"It was a great call by Manny," Leyland said. "That was the run that beat us. We were certainly aware of it. That's why I had Alex looking over in case I wanted to pitch out, but I didn't do it early enough."
Fister blamed himself for the poor throw.
"It's basically do or die and I died," he said. "I've got to get the throw in a better spot. I didn't execute it."
Smith thought he had thrown a third strike past Quentin Berry to end the top of the seventh with that 2-0 lead. TV replays showed his full-count pitch was over the heart of the plate, but umpire Marvin Hudson judged it to be a tad high. Cabrera then drove a 2-0 pitch over the wall in center for his 24th homer.
Great hustle by Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder helped douse the Indians' rally in the fourth.
With runners on first and second and none out, Santana singled in Jason Kipnis with a grounder between first and second. Right fielder Brennan Boesch scooped up the ball, but Fielder cut off his throw home and fired to third baseman Cabrera, getting Michael Brantley in a rundown.
Fielder then sprinted all the way across the diamond to back up the play, taking a return throw from shortstop Jhonny Peralta on the run and tagging out Brantley, who was sliding in head first.
Hafner struck out and Damon grounded out to end the inning.
Jimenez allowed seven singles over six scoreless innings.
"Ubaldo pitched a heck of a six innings," Acta said. "And he had to pitch. In five of the six innings, the leadoff hitter reached."
Fister gave up three runs and nine hits over seven innings.
- Fielder's hustle play resulted in a putout scored 9-3-5-6-3, which made residents of Pearblossom, Calif., proud. That's their zip code number.
- Cleveland sent minor league RHP Jose De La Torre to Boston for Lillibridge, who is expected to report Wednesday.
- Cleveland tied a season high with its seventh straight errorless game. The Indians have made seven errors in their past 28 games.
- Leyland said RHP Anibal Sanchez will start Saturday in Toronto and 2B Omar Infante will bat in the second spot against left-handers and ninth against right-handers. The two were acquired from Miami on Monday.
- Ramon Santiago, who has been splitting Tigers second base duties with Ryan Raburn and Danny Worth, will be the utility infielder. Raburn will play left field against lefty pitchers; Worth was optioned to Triple-A Toledo.