CLEVELAND -- The Indians will take it. After the season they have endured to this point, and certainly following a grueling game that pushed Cleveland's stamina and roster to the limit, the Indians did not care how they found their way to the win column on Wednesday.
When Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque flinched on the mound in the bottom of the 13th inning, Ryan Raburn thrust his arms into the air in the batter's box, grinning wide and turning to embrace the teammates pouring from the dugout. Cleveland was gifted with a bases-loaded balk that turned confusion into elation in an improbable 11-10 balk-off win over Detroit.
"A win's a win," said Raburn, still smiling long after the game's strange ending. "I was hoping to be able to come through for the team there and put an end to it."
Raburn did not even have to swing the bat.
The victory finished off a sweep of a three-game series with the American League Central-leading Tigers, cutting Cleveland's deficit to 7 1/2 games in the division standings. That is still a considerable hill to climb for the Tribe, but slowing Detroit's high-powered lineup and potent pitching was an encouraging step for a team trying to find its footing.
Cleveland's win marked the first walk-off balk in the Majors since July 4, 2011, when the White Sox won in that manner against the Royals.
It took nine pitchers, 13 innings and 269 pitches in a game that lasted five hours and 16 minutes, but the Indians notched their first three-game sweep of the season against any opponent. Heading into this series, Cleveland had dropped five of six and was embarrassed in an overwhelming brooming at the hands of the A's.
The Indians are now hoping they breathed some life into their season.
"This game is crazy," Tigers closer Joe Nathan said. "These guys get swept and absolutely boatraced by Oakland before we get here. We're playing as good as we've played all season before we get here. And who would've seen this happening? I don't think anybody. But it's a crazy game."
No one inside Cleveland's clubhouse was about to argue.
"I don't even know where to start with that game," Indians right fielder David Murphy said. "I don't really know if that was a baseball game, or a marathon combined with a circus. I love the way we battled."
That last sentiment was the main takeaway for the Tribe.
Many of Cleveland's early-season issues arose on Wednesday afternoon, but the Indians kept getting off the mat.
Starter Zach McAllister, who has a 9.51 ERA in his past six outings, was chased after allowing five runs (four earned) in just two-plus innings. The Indians' defense, which leads the Majors in errors, committed two miscues that paved the way for a pair of unearned runs. The Tribe's taxed bullpen slipped in spots and ran out of available arms after 10 innings.
"We still made some mistakes and you're going to make mistakes," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "but we picked each other up, we looked to pick each other up and the good part is that it showed on the scoreboard. Regardless, if we play like that, with that much passion, we're going to be OK."
J.D. Martinez highlighted a four-run first for the Tigers with a two-run homer, and then Cleveland countered with six runs through two innings against reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Within that push, Murphy knocked in a run in each of the first two frames and Michael Brantley delivered a two-run single in the second.
Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez led off the third with a home run off McAllister, but then Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall launched a leadoff blast off Scherzer in the home half of the inning. Detroit stuck for two runs off lefty Marc Rzepczynski in the eighth inning, and then Murphy crushed a pitch from Nathan out to right field for a two-run homer in the ninth, pulling the game into a 9-9 deadlock.
"A few weeks ago, we really didn't show a whole lot of fight," Murphy said. "The type of day that we had, nobody is going to say die. Nobody is going to throw in the towel. Nobody is going to throw away at-bats. Everybody is going to go up there and fight until it's over."
The back-and-forth battle reached a point where Francona was forced to turn to right-hander Josh Tomlin, who was scheduled to start Thursday in Baltimore. Cleveland needs to make roster moves in the next 24 hours to add reinforcements, but all Francona was worried about against Detroit was doing everything possible to win on Wednesday.
How long was Francona willing to use Tomlin?
"Probably until we won or lost," said the manager. "There's not a whole lot of options after that."
Tomlin got through the 11th and 12th inning unscathed, but then surrendered a two-out, solo home run to Tigers catcher Alex Avila in the 13th. It looked to be the final blow for the Indians, who could have still held their heads high in the wake of that kind of defeat.
"We did things to get ourselves in position to give us a chance to win this game," said Scherzer, who gutted his way through seven innings despite giving up seven runs on 12 hits.
In the bottom of the 13th inning, Indians second baseman Mike Aviles led off with an infield single and then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Michael Bourn. Lefty Phil Coke then hit Asdrubal Cabrera on the side of his left knee with a pitch, knocking the shortstop to the ground in clear pain. Cleveland had emptied its bench, so Cabrera got to his feet and stayed in the game.
Brantley then sliced a pitch from Coke into left field for an RBI single that pulled the game into a 10-10 tie, eliciting cheers from the loyalists still in the ballpark. Three batters later, following an intentional walk to load the bases with two outs, Alburquerque flinched ever so slightly while coming set in his delivery on the mound.
The move was clearly a balk, setting off a celebration on the field and in the stands.
"Do I get an RBI for that?" Raburn said with a laugh.