CLEVELAND -- With the calendar freshly flipped to September and their late August ascent up the standings at their back, the Indians had their ace on the mound as they opened a crucial four-game series with the Tigers, who are ahead of them in the standings, on Monday. But Corey Kluber watched three of his pitches fly over the wall and exited after getting only eight outs.
The middle of the Tigers' order slugged Kluber out of the game in 2 2/3 innings and eventually roughed up the Tribe's bullpen as Detroit coasted to a 12-1 Labor Day victory at Progressive Field.
Kluber's shortest outing of a standout season snapped the Tribe's three-game winning streak and put the Indians four games behind the Tigers, who hold the second American League Wild Card spot.
An eye-popping matchup on paper, Kluber was off his game in David Price's first start against the Indians since he was traded to the Tigers. The Blue Angels were in Cleveland for an air show on the holiday, flying boisterously over the ballpark on numerous occasions. The Tigers, meanwhile, put on their own air show against Kluber.
Miguel Cabrera got Detroit on the board in the first inning by lining a changeup just over the left-field wall. Ian Kinsler, who led off the game with a triple to right field, scored on the shot, spotting Price two runs before he took the mound.
Cabrera also added a solo homer in the eighth after not going yard since Aug. 2, and he was part of the rally that ended Kluber's afternoon in the third inning.
In the third, the reigning AL MVP sent a fly ball to right field which hit the glove of Mike Aviles, who misread the ball off the bat, and fell in for a two-out single. Kluber got ahead of the next batter, Victor Martinez, 0-2. However, the former Indian clubbed a sinker to right-center field, doubling the Tigers' run total.
"He actually got ahead of Victor, 0-2, and tried to climb the ladder to either get him to chase or set up the next pitch," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Victor went up and got it."
Kluber also got ahead of the next batter, J.D. Martinez, before Martinez hit a 2-2 sinker out for a solo shot. Nick Castellanos followed with a single and sent Kluber slowly to the dugout.
"They're good hitters, and if you make mistakes to them, they usually take advantage of it," Kluber said.
The three home runs were the most the right-hander's allowed in a start, and he gave up five earned runs for just the second time this season -- the first coming in his initial outing of 2014 on April 2. Kluber's first start of the season was also the only other time he was unable to strike out more than two batters. He entered Monday third in the Majors in punchouts (213), but added just a pair to that total.
Another number Francona kept low was the 28-year-old's innings count, which now stands at 195 1/3 for the season. Francona said he could have stayed with Kluber, who had thrown 57 pitches at the time of his exit. But with the Indians facing a stretch of 23 games in the next 23 days, Francona is hoping the move pays dividends in the regular season's final month.
"Klub could have stayed out there and battled and done just fine," Francona said. "But since we were down and there are no days off, now that we are in September … the most important thing is to allow Klub to come back in five days and not work harder than he has."
Price, meanwhile, added eight strikeouts to his Major League lead in the category. He scattered eight hits through seven innings, and a Carlos Santana RBI double in the first inning was the only offense the Indians had against the left-hander.
The Indians, who had eight hits but were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, came into the afternoon tilt after a suspended late-night game in Kansas City and a 3:15 a.m. ET landing in their home city -- something of which Price was aware.
"I know they got in late last night with all the rain in Kansas City, but you've got to take advantage of that," Price said. "Our offense did a great job against Kluber, getting two runs in the first and a couple more in the next two innings. That made my job a little bit easier, for sure."
With the Tigers comfortably ahead for most of the game, usual starter Zach McAllister worked three scoreless innings before running in trouble during the seventh.
McAllister and callups Bryan Price and Austin Adams were each charged with runs as the Tigers piled on seven in the final three frames and ran their hit total up to 20, the most against the Indians in 2014.
Pinch-hitter Tyler Collins capped the scoring in the ninth with a three-run homer against Adams.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.