DETROIT — When the Cleveland Indians poured onto the field to celebrate their first division title since 2007, their mounting list of concerns became secondary.
Injuries to Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar — and now ace Corey Kluber? The Indians have overcome all of it so far, and that’s why the AL Central is theirs with about a week to spare.
Cleveland clinched the division championship Monday night, overcoming an injury to Kluber in a 7-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Kluber left after four innings with right groin tightness, joining Carrasco and Salazar in a group of talented pitchers dealing with health problems.
Brantley has barely played this year because of shoulder problems, and catcher Yan Gomes is out, too. Yet the Indians have held onto first place for more than three months.
“It’s hard, man. It is so hard to explain how hard winning is,” manager Terry Francona said. “We’ve had some challenges thrown our way, but so has everyone else. We managed to get this far, and now we get to play more baseball.”
Cleveland last made the postseason in 2013 as a wild card.
Coco Crisp and Roberto Perez homered for the Indians, and Jason Kipnis doubled in a run.
Buck Farmer (0-1) allowed four runs in five innings for the Tigers, who fell two games behind Baltimore for the second AL wild card.
Andrew Miller (10-1) won in relief, and Cody Allen pitched the ninth for his 30th save in 33 chances.
Crisp and Detroit’s J.D. Martinez traded two-run homers in the second, and Cleveland took the lead for good in the fifth on the double by Kipnis. Mike Napoli’s sacrifice fly later that inning made it 4-2.
With the division title 15 outs away, the Indians took the field for the bottom of the fifth without their ace. Kluber, the team leader with 18 wins, was replaced by Dan Otero, and the announcement about the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner’s groin problem came a little while later.
“He’s good, but he has a groin thing that he’s fighting,” Francona said. “It started getting him in the third and again in the fourth, so I grabbed him. I told him we need to find a way to win a game, but we aren’t going far without him, so we need to get him healthy and let him do what he does.”
Miguel Cabrera made it 4-3 with an RBI single, but Perez led off the seventh with a drive to right to put the Indians back up by two.
Cabrera added another run-scoring single in the seventh, but Perez — who entered the game hitting .168 — answered with another big hit in the eighth, lining an RBI single up the middle.
Cleveland made it 7-4 on an error by Martinez in right.
Miller, the third reliever for the Indians, struck out four of the six hitters he faced before giving way to Allen. The final out came on a strikeout by Cameron Maybin.
It was fitting that Cleveland clinched the division with a head-to-head victory over the Tigers, because that’s how the Central was won. The Indians are 14-2 against Detroit with three games left in the season series.
“I can’t really explain it, but the truth is, they’ve outplayed us,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “They’ve outhit us, they’ve outpitched us, they’ve out-defended us. It’s simple.”
Cleveland also has been solid against other teams, of course. The Indians won 14 games in a row from June 17 to July 1, a run that coincided with the Cavaliers winning the NBA title to end the city’s 52-year championship drought.
The Indians are aiming to win the World Series for the first time since 1948.
“As soon as we got hold of first place, you saw probably the tightest grip on it ever,” Kipnis said. “We never let go of it, and that’s how much this team competed.”
The Indians weren’t able to clinch the division crown at home, but Detroit is only about 170 miles from Cleveland, and there were plenty of fans chanting “Let’s Go Tribe!” after this one was over. A large group of Indians supporters gathered behind their dugout on the first base side.
“It was awesome, especially that last inning when they’re all chanting, going crazy,” Napoli said. “Obviously, we wanted to do it at home, but to be able to come here, play Detroit, a team that we can get it done against. It’s nice.”
Indians: Salazar (strained forearm) threw a bullpen session before the game.
Tigers: Ausmus said 3B Nick Castellanos (left hand) could be back before the weekend. He’s currently in the instructional league.
Indians: Cleveland sends RHP Mike Clevinger (2-2) to the mound Tuesday night at Detroit.
Tigers: Detroit counters with RHP Justin Verlander (15-8), who struck out 11 against Minnesota last Thursday.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister