Covering the Bases: Game 105

729GiambiFinal: Indians 3, White Sox 2

FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona knows there isn’t much else he can say to convey his appreciation and respect for what Jason Giambi brings to his team.

Francona just isn’t sure he’s got it right, yet.

“You could fill up a book,” Francona said, “because I keep trying to say how I feel about him, and I just don’t feel like I ever quite get there. That’s how valuable I feel like he is to our team.”

On Monday night, Giambi entered off the bench as a pinch-hitter for Mark Reynolds to face White Sox reliever Ramon Troncoso. The veteran lefty received a 1-1 slider that floated high in the zone, and he deposited it into the bushes beyond the center-field wall.

What followed was frenzy.

Giambi made his way around the bases, and then jumped into the pack of teammates at the plate. His jersey was tugged, his hair tousled, and Nick Swisher leapt into his arms. Francona also greeted Giambi with a bear hug, and the aging slugger thanked his manager by hoisting him into the air.

“It was fun until it hurt,” Francona said.

Swisher later drenched Giambi with a cooler filled with water.

“I might catch pneumonia,” Giambi joked. “I’m a little old to be dunked with cold water.”

If you thought Giambi was a little too old to be swatting walk-off home runs, well, you would’ve been right. In fact, he just became the oldest player in baseball history to launch a walk-off blast, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Oldest players to hit a walk-off home run
1. Jason Giambi (42 years, 202 days), 2013
2. Hank Aaron (42 years, 157 days), 1976
3. Tony Perez (42 years, 110 days), 1984

Giambi headed into his ninth-inning at-bat with a .056 (1-for-18) average over his previous seven games. In the 19 games prior to that stretch, the 42-year-old designated hitter posted a .289/.418/.622/1.040 slash line over 45 at-bats. And, while his overall season line (.194/.301/.411) isn’t that pretty, Giambi has been productive.

Consider that Giambi now has an at-bats per RBI rate of 5.17 through 124 ABs. Among Major League hitters with at least 120 at-bats this season, Giambi entered Monday’s game ranked 20th with a rate of 5.35 AB/RBI. Among American League hitters, Giambi ranked ninth.

American League leaders in AB/RBI
minimum 120 at-bats, entering Monday
1. Miguel Cabrera, 3.82, 378 at-bats
2. Chris Davis, 3.94, 382 at-bats
3. Edwin Encarnacion, 4.70, 385 at-bats
4. David Ortiz, 4.76, 319 at-bats
5. Mark DeRosa, 5.11, 138 at-bats
6. Wil Myers, 5.15, 134 at-bats
7. Mike Carp, 5.18, 145 at-bats
8. Ryan Raburn, 5.29, 164 at-bats
9. Jason Giambi, 5.35, 123 at-bats
10. Prince Fielder, 5.36, 402 at-bats

“He has a pretty big presence in the batter’s box,” Francona said. “I think people, when I get asked a lot, they look at his batting average. You look at his run production for his at-bats, it’s tremendous. And what he does, before he even steps in the batter’s box, you can’t put a price on it.”

Said Swisher: “Whether he gets one at-bat a week or he gets 10-15 at-bats a week, any time a guy like that is successful, the atmosphere is off the charts, man. We were so happy for him. That’s what we brought him here to do. The guy is still built like a Greek god. He can still hit the ball a quarter mile. We saw that tonight.

“Not only that, he’s done so much for everybody in this locker room. In a sense, he’s almost like a player coach, in a way, just because he has so much knowledge. A lot of us, we almost wish we could have the career he’s had. To have a guy like that in our locker room, and for him to hit the game-winning home run, it was electric.”

SECOND: Giambi ended the evening with an exclamation point, but until then the starting pitching was poised to steal the storyline once again.

Right-hander Zach McAllister, making his second start since coming off the disabled list due to a finger injury, gave the Tribe seven strong innings. McAllister scattered five hits and limited the White Sox to two runs, mixing in two strikeouts and one walk in a 90-pitch effort.

“He wanted to stay in,” Francona said. “I thought, just, second start back, not to push it. He gave up just the two, and that was with two outs. I thought he really threw the ball well. He used both sides of the plate. The more reps he gets, the sharper he’s going to get.”

With that outing, the Indians’ starting staff is now 8-2 (McAllister took a no-decision) with a 1.84 ERA over 107.2 innings in 17 games, dating back to July 8.

Cleveland did, however, see its impressive scoreless streak come to a close at 26 innings. After back-to-back shutouts by Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, McAllister blanked Chicago for five innings before flinching in the sixth. The 26 straight shutout innings were the most for the Indians since a 31-inning run in 2008. Those represent the two longest streaks for the team over the past 14 seasons.

Herb Score, Mike Garcia and Bob Lemon remain the last three Indians pitchers to piece together three consecutive shutouts, doing so in 1956.

THIRD: Fortunately for the Indians, a blown call in the eighth inning turned into a footnote rather than a critical turning point.

With one out, Alexei Ramirez reached on a fielding error by reliever Cody Allen and then, according to second-base umpire D.J. Reyburn, stole second. Replays clearly showed that second baseman Jason Kipnis received a perfect throw from catcher Carlos Santana and tagged Ramirez on the left arm before he made contact with the bag.

Kipnis was heated and Francona came out to argue the play.

The Indians retired the next two batters, rendering the call moot in the grand scheme of things.

“I don’t think he was safe,” Francona said. “That would have been a tough one to take.”

Asked what Reyburn’s explanation was, Francona didn’t have an answer.

“I wasn’t listening. I don’t know,” said the manager. “That would have been a really hard one to digest. I’d have probably ended up getting thrown out on the next pitching change.”

HOME: Within that eighth inning, Francona summoned left-hander Rich Hill from the bullpen to face slugger Adam Dunn with Ramirez on third base. Ramirez, representing the go-ahead run, advanced on a flyout to right field from Alex Rios.

Hill worked the count full before freezing Dunn with a 93-mph sinker for an inning-ending strikeout.

It was a critical out for a pitcher facing much scrutiny these days. With Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline approaching, Cleveland is hunting for left-handed relief help. That has been an inconsistent aspect of the roster, and Hill is the lone lefty in the ‘pen at the moment.

“That was huge,” Francona said of Hill’s strikeout. “That’s why he’s here. Again, when he’s successful in those areas, it makes our bullpen a lot better.”

ON DECK:

White Sox (40-63) at Indians (57-48)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Tuesday at Progressive Field

–JB

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