DETROIT -- The Indians might just be the Tigers' Achilles' heel this season.
Entering Tuesday's game, the Indians were 2-18 in their last 20 road games. They hadn't won a series since taking two of three from Detroit on July 24-26. And they hadn't won a series outside of Progressive Field since a four-game series on June 28-July 1 in Baltimore.
But despite the Tigers having just swept the American League Central-leading White Sox, the Indians came into Comerica Park and took the series with a 3-2 win Tuesday night and put themselves in position to sweep Wednesday.
The win makes Cleveland 9-5 against Detroit on the season. It's one of only two AL clubs the Tribe has a winning record against (5-4 against the Angels). And now, the Indians also have taken four of five series from the Tigers in 2012.
"It's crazy this year. For some reason, some way, we seem to play a little bit better against Detroit," starter Justin Masterson said. "I think the guys feel it. If we could carry that over to every game it might have worked out a little bit better early in the season."
Perhaps the team does feel it, but manager Manny Acta said he doesn't think the Indians have Detroit's number. Acta said that despite how poorly they played in August, the Indians always manage to give the Tigers a good series.
"You can't pick and choose who you play well against," Acta said. "We want to play well against everybody. It happened that we have gotten good pitching when we played them and have played them well."
That good pitching Tuesday came from Masterson, who in his past six starts had either been great or terrible. Three starts were excellent, as he allowed three runs in 19 2/3 innings. And three were miserable, as he allowed 22 runs in 13 2/3 innings.
On Tuesday, he was the former as he contained the Tigers to two runs on four hits in six innings.
"I thought Masterson threw the ball extremely well," Acta said. "He mixed his four-seam fastball, which was pretty much all night from 94-97 [mph], with his two-seam fastball when he needed ground balls, and did a fantastic job. He made one mistake hanging that ball to Miguel [Cabrera], and that's about it."
With two outs and one on in the sixth inning, the right-hander allowed a two-run bomb to Cabrera, who sent a first-pitch slider over the left-field fence. It cut a three-run lead to one.
"I was thinking just get a slider down and away, ended up hanging it, and he hit it well," Masterson said. "I was trying to get a little thing down and away, probably getting too cute."
The Indians had established the lead early in the game off Tigers starter Rick Porcello. They made Porcello labor through his 5 2/3 innings, pegging him for three runs on eight hits and two walks.
The Tribe got on the board first for the second straight game. In the second inning, a hit-and-run allowed Carlos Santana to score from first on a Michael Brantley opposite-field double that dropped just inside the left-field line.
Brantley would then come around to score when Jack Hannahan lined a two-strike, two-out single just over shortstop Jhonny Peralta's glove. The Tribe scratched across another run on doubles from Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera in the third.
The shortstop scorched one just over first base and past a diving Don Kelly. It appeared close, but first-base umpire James Hoye ruled it a fair ball, and the ball boy, failing to realize the call, scooped it up as Choo scored and Cabrera was awarded second.
After the homer by Cabrera, Masterson struck out Prince Fielder to end the inning and his night.
From there, the game was turned over to a bullpen that was tasked with preserving a one-run lead for three innings for the second time in as many games. Scott Barnes and Joe Smith split a scoreless seventh, Vinnie Pestano hurled a perfect eighth, and Chris Perez shut the door in the ninth for his 34th save.
"Our bullpen was great. They did a tremendous job, especially Pestano and Chris going through the heart of the order without even allowing a baserunner," Acta said.
Pestano struck out Cabrera to end the eighth, and Perez, who allowed five runs in a walk-off loss his last time pitching in Detroit, fanned Fielder and Brennan Boesch before Delmon Young hit a ground ball to second to end the game.
After a 5-24 record in August, the Indians are now 3-1 in September.
"When you have as bad a August as we had, I think September -- somehow, some way -- just became a relief for us," Masterson said. "We said, 'Hey, let's just go. Let's just battle and play the way we know how to play.'"
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.