CLEVELAND -- Doug Fister's breaking ball put the brakes on Cleveland's challenge to first-place Detroit.
Fister struck out a career-high 13, Victor Martinez hit a three-run homer and the Tigers beat the Indians 4-2 on Monday to extend their AL Central lead to 7½ games.
"That's the best I've seen Fister," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, still wary of the gritty Indians.
"I'm not looking ahead," he said. "We haven't done anything but put ourselves in good position. That's all."
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski laid the groundwork for the surge by acquiring Fister (7-13) from Seattle on July 30. The right-hander is 4-1 in seven starts for Detroit. He gave up an earned run and four hits over eight innings.
"He did a little of this when they were looking for that," Leyland said. "The curve was a huge pitch for him and he stayed out of the middle of the plate. You can't hardly pitch better than he did today."
Jose Valverde worked a perfect ninth to move to 41 for 41 in save opportunities, extending his team record and helping the Tigers improve to 14-4 since leading the Indians by 1½ games on Aug. 19. Detroit began a three-game home sweep of the Indians that night and has won five straight against them, sending Cleveland to its largest deficit of the season.
"We've got enough games left, but the main thing is this is the only opportunity to really shave the lead," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "When you don't play the team you're trailing it takes forever sometimes to (cut) a game.
"We need to be ready to even up the series. This is the most important one. Our effort and our energy should be concentrated on winning tomorrow."
Martinez drove a 2-2 pitch from Ubaldo Jimenez (2-2) 420 feet into the right-field seats for a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
"I was looking fastball because that's what he was throwing everybody else," Martinez said. "He threw one down the middle and I swung."
Jimenez struck out five over the first two innings and didn't yield a hit until Delmon Young singled with one out in the fourth. Miguel Cabrera then walked before Martinez connected for his ninth homer.
Martinez, dealt to Boston by the Indians at the trading deadline in 2009, signed with the Tigers as a free agent last winter. He is batting .392 with runners in scoring position and .324 with 82 RBIs overall.
Grady Sizemore, activated by Cleveland after six weeks on the disabled list, drove in an unearned run with a groundout in the fifth to make it 3-1.
The Indians, riddled by injuries all year, led the division from April 8 until June 14, when the Tigers' Justin Verlander beat them 4-0. Cleveland climbed back into the lead, but has trailed Detroit since losing to the Chicago White Sox 3-0 on July 22.
That was one day after Sizemore had abdominal surgery. The Indians have been without several key players for large chunks of time this season and hope the three-time All-Star can give them a much-needed September spark.
Jason Donald singled, took second on a wild pickoff attempt by Fister and advanced to third on a groundout by Lou Marson. Sizemore hit a sharp grounder up the middle that shortstop Jhonny Peralta fielded behind the second-base bag. His throw to first got Sizemore as Donald scored.
"Defense helped there," Fister said. "That's my job, make them put it in play and rely on the defense. I don't try for strikeouts. Today, I just got them."
Detroit added another run in the eighth on Cabrera's fielder's choice with the bases loaded.
Jimenez struck out eight in seven innings and was charged with three runs and two hits. He has a 5.27 ERA in seven starts since Cleveland dealt four prospects to Colorado for him on July 31.
Jimenez is 8-11 overall, including his time with the Rockies. ... Fister's 13 strikeouts are the most by a Tigers pitcher against Cleveland since LHP Mike Kilkenny fanned 13 on Sept. 17, 1969. ... Detroit recalled C Omir Santos from Triple-A Toledo for the fourth time. The Tigers also were planning to call up INF Danny Worth, according to a Toledo spokesman. ... The Tigers arrived at their Cleveland hotel around 2 a.m. after an 18-2 win over the White Sox on Sunday night. Leyland said he will try to rest some Tigers when they play another day game Wednesday against the Indians. ... Tigers OF Brennan Boesch is out for the season with a torn ligament in his right thumb. He could have surgery this week at Cleveland Clinic, by noted specialist Dr. Thomas Graham. ... Acta said 2B Jason Kipnis may be activated this week. Kipnis has been out since Aug. 14 with a strained hamstring. ... Indians DH Travis Hafner, out since Sept. 6 with a strained right foot, said he may start jogging this week. He has been taking swings in the batting cage. ... Detroit's Rick Porcello (12-8) will face Fausto Carmona (6-13) in a battle of right-handers in the series' second game.