CLEVELAND -- Justin Verlander's name will forever be linked to Indians lore. When the book finally closes on this season, Cleveland's most memorable moment, and its most unfortunate turning point, will have come with Detroit's ace on the hill.
On Friday night the Indians came face-to-face with Verlander for the first time since their meeting six weeks ago. Things were much different this time, and there was no dramatic comeback in this 4-0 loss, and any hopes of contending were dashed long ago.
There was just Verlander, tormenting the Tribe the way he has so many teams, firing his way through seven solid innings to send the Indians to their 36th loss in 46 games. That stretch dates back to July 26, when Cleveland used a four-run seventh to claim a comeback win over Verlander and Detroit.
"I don't think anybody's thinking that far back," manager Manny Acta said. "We're trying to keep things here in the present."
Maybe that is true inside the clubhouse, but fans will have a hard time forgetting the rest of the story.
Cleveland used that stirring win to pull within 3 1/2 games of first place in the American League Central. Then came the 11-game losing streak and the onslaught of rotation problems. Later there was a nine-game losing streak and an offense gone quiet. Now the Tribe is in last place with an eye toward 2013.
That contest in late July -- simply known as "The Verlander Game" by now -- was indeed a turning point. Things just turned in the wrong direction.
The Tigers and White Sox continue on with the Indians in their rearview mirror, battling for the division crown as the regular season winds down. Cleveland wanted badly to be a part of the September chase, but there were too many issues, and too many losses.
In this latest defeat -- their sixth in the past seven games -- the Indians could not deliver in a variety of chances against Verlander, the AL's reigning Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player. The hard-throwing right-hander blanked the Tribe in his seven innings, yielding six hits, but none when it mattered most.
Verlander struck out six and walked one en route to his 14th win of the year.
"We had a couple of opportunities to get back in the game," Acta said, "but we just couldn't get it done. Verlander made some very good pitches on some of those guys when he had to. Still, those are opportunities that we can't let get away."
Cleveland (60-85) had runners on second and third with no outs in the fifth, but Verlander retired the next three hitters he faced. For the final out of that string, Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder made a diving stop on a chopper off the bat of Jason Donald and flipped the ball from his knees to Verlander at first.
In the sixth inning, the Indians had runners on the corners with one out, but Verlander induced a flyout from Russ Canzler and a groundout from Casey Kotchman. For the last out in that frame, Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera made a diving stop to his right and threw across the diamond to nab Kotchman.
"It's very disappointing," designated hitter Matt LaPorta said. "We've got to figure out a way to scratch those runs out."
Detroit's defense -- understandably criticized all season -- loomed large in this one.
"I thought Prince might have made a game-saving play," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "And I thought Miggy might have made a game-saving play. Two guys on the corners made huge plays."
The Tigers (76-67) scored all the runs they'd need in a pair of two-run bursts against rookie Corey Kluber over the first two innings. Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch connected for consecutive RBI singles in the first. An inning later, Austin Jackson's RBI double and Cabrera's run-scoring single made it 4-0.
Kluber was left searching for something positive.
"Not giving in or letting it spiral out of control was good," Kluber said.
Still, it was enough to give him the loss after he scattered eight hits and struck out five in five innings. The bullpen held the Tigers down the rest of the way, but the damage had been done.
The Indians have beaten Verlander twice this season, but that is not what will be remembered when the Tribe's season comes to an end.