CLEVELAND (AP) -- Carlos Carrasco and the Indians' relievers stepped around Detroit's dangerous collection of power hitters for eight innings.
Then J.D. Martinez connected.
Martinez hit a three-run homer off closer Cody Allen in the ninth inning as the Tigers, frustrated at being unable to get a clutch hit for eight innings, rallied for a 4-2 win over the Indians, handing Cleveland a crushing early September loss that could do serious damage to its chances of playing in October.
Allen (5-4), trying to protect a 2-1 lead and get his 19th save, was in trouble from the moment he walked onto the mound. He gave up a leadoff walk to Torii Hunter and a single to Miguel Cabrera before he retired Victor Martinez on a fly to center.
The relief was only temporary, with J.D. Martinez driving a 1-0 pitch into the shrubs beyond the center-field wall for his 19th homer.
"I was just overthrowing it," Allen said. "I just didn't make pitches when I had to. One pitch - J.D. Martinez extended on a fastball and hit it very hard."
Phil Coke (3-2) pitched 1 1-3 innings and Joe Nathan worked the ninth for his 29th save as the Tigers stayed on the heels of first-place Kansas City in the AL Central.
For the Indians, it was like so many other tough nights against the Tigers. Detroit swept a three-game series here earlier this season and took four straight at Progressive Field a year ago. Cleveland also wasted a strong performance by Carlos Carrasco, who managed to pitch out of trouble for 5 1-3 innings and struck out a career-high 10.
"He really dug deep," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Carrasco, who has been a different pitcher since re-joining Cleveland's rotation on Aug. 10. "He pitched out of so many binds and executed some unbelievable pitches. It flew past encouraging."
Carlos Santana hit a two-run homer for Cleveland, which has dropped the first two in this critical four-game series.
Until Detroit's ninth-inning uprising, Carrasco was in line for his fourth straight win. The right-hander managed to work out of jams in four straight innings, making big pitches and keeping the Tigers' power hitters in the ballpark one night after Detroit slugged five homers and collected 20 hits.
Every time the Tigers threatened, Carrasco found a way out of trouble.
Clinging to a one-run lead in the fifth, he gave up a leadoff double to Cabrera, who went to third on Victor Martinez's single. Carrasco then struck out J.D. Martinez looking, fanned Nick Castellanos and locked up Alex Avila with an 84 mph off-speed pitch to end the inning, celebrating his 10th whiff with a demonstrative fist pump.
Even Cabrera patted Carrasco on the rear as the right-hander passed him while leaving the field.
"He throws 96-98 (mph)," Hunter said of Carrasco. "His slider was good. We knew he was going to throw it, but we still couldn't hit it."
After Carrasco gave up a one-out single in the sixth, Francona pulled him and the 27-year-old received a rousing ovation from the appreciative crowd. Carrasco has a 0.90 ERA in his past five starts.
Santana got the Indians out of the gate fast, hitting his 23rd homer in the first. Michael Brantley singled with two outs before Santana connected for a shot into Detroit's bullpen in right.
This was the first time the Indians had been in a game where both starters struck out at least 10 since July 29, 2007, against Minnesota. Twins right-hander Matt Garza and Cleveland's CC Sabathia each struck out 11.
TWO IN A ROW
Allen has blown two straight save opportunities. He blew one Sunday in Kansas City before the game was suspended in the 10th inning.
Indians: OF David Murphy, sidelined since Aug. 10 with an oblique injury, will begin a rehab stint on Wednesday with Triple-A Columbus. Murphy is batting .262 with seven homers and 55 RBIs in his first season with Cleveland.
Detroit RHP Justin Verlander (12-11) hasn't pitched like himself most of this season. He's dealt with shoulder issues and the 2011 AL MVP hasn't been nearly as dominant as in previous years. But it's September, there's important games ahead and he's still a handful for the Indians, who will counter with Danny Salazar (5-6).