Detroit — John Hicks exhaled, deeply.
"That off-day tomorrow will be huge," he said. "It's been a long stretch. A lot of games and not as many days."
That it was. After the 9-2 loss to the Indians Sunday, the Tigers had played 18 games in 17 days, and came out of it with a 10-8 record.
"We hung in there," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We played a lot of close ballgames. One swing of the bat here or there or one good pitch, could've changed it. Ten and eight, yes, but we could have been better.
"I think that's what keeps driving these guys. We know we can do better."
In the 18-game stretch, the Tigers played five contending teams — the Angles, Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox and Indians. It was a stretch of games, quite honestly, many pundits felt would sink the Tigers.
But the Tigers weren't looking for validation.
"We've believed in ourselves since Day One," Hicks said. "Not everybody else has. But we've been playing good baseball. We're a fun team to watch, there's no denying that. ... Obviously, there's a lot of season left.
"By no means are we where we want to be. We're not in first place."
The loss Sunday was not representative of the way the Tigers have played for most of this 18-game stretch. They made three errors and had several other defensive misplays.
But the story of the game, as Gardenhire so succinctly put it, was, "Kluber. He's pretty good."
Indians ace Corey Kluber was a beast. The only positive from the Tigers' standpoint was they finally scored off him — something they hadn’t done since last season, Sept. 2, a span of 20 innings.
"He's one of the best in the league for a reason," said Hicks, who managed two of the Tigers' five hits off him in eight innings. "I was telling the guys, honestly, if he throws you a pitch and it starts as a strike, it's probably going to be a ball.
"If he throws you a pitch that starts as a ball, it's probably going to be a strike. It's like a whiffle ball."
Hicks scored the first run. He singled and JaCoby Jones doubled in the third inning — two opposite-field hits by right-handed hitters.
"Both were two-seam fastballs that started way off the plate," Hicks said. "If you try to pull that guy as a right-handed hitter, you are done."
Hicks scored on a groundout by Leonys Martin.
Martin blasted a 415-foot home run to right field in the sixth inning – his ninth of the season.
"Everything he throws moves a lot, so it's real tough to get on top of the baseball," Martin said. "Thank God he made a mistake and I was able to put a good swing on one."
Kluber, who struck out eight, is 10-2 on the season.
Gardenhire was asked if the Tigers' defensive lapses were a function of mental fatigue.
"I don't think so," he said. "There's no was to say definitely yes or no to that question. I just think we missed a few plays. We've been playing pretty good defense."
The Indians stole three bases off Hicks and starter Artie Lewicki (three runs in five innings) and Hicks threw one of those into center field. Miguel Cabrera muffed a spinning one-hopper and a base hit by Lonnie Chisenhall (one of his three hits) skidded past right-fielder Nick Castellanos.
Rookie Niko Goodrum, who got the start at second base, had the worst day of all and he wasn't technically charged with an error.
In the fourth inning, he picked up the ball that Cabrera booted at first base. Yonder Alonso went to third on the play and Chisenhall to second. Chisenhall was on his way to third base when he saw that Alonso had stopped.
Goodrum never looked at second base — where he had Chisenhall dead to rights. He threw home instead where there was no play.
Then in the Indians’ three-run sixth inning off reliever Drew VerHagen, Goodrum missed two balls. One was a ground ball by Chisenhall to his right. He tried to make a sliding stop but the ball went under his glove — scored a single.
"It was wet, the grass was wet," Gardenhire said. "He went to slide and kind of spun out."
Melky Cabrera followed with a ground ball down the left-field line. Jones fired a strike to second base and the ball beat Cabrera — but Goodrum couldn’t come up with it.
Chisenhall, Cabrera and Roberto Perez all scored on a double by Erik Gonzalez.
"Just one of those games," Gardenhire said. "We didn't make enough plays or enough pitches."
The clubhouse emptied quickly, as you would expect with a hard-earned day off looming.
"Man, I don't know who made this schedule, but it's been tough for us," Martin said. "A lot of late flights, day games, night games. But we've got to do it. We never gave up. We go out and fight.
"Now we just have to move forward."