Covering the Bases: Game 157

924GFinal: Indians 5, White Sox 4

FIRST: Do you believe in miracles?

What took place on Tuesday night at Progressive Field certainly felt like one. The stadium was as loud as its been all season in the ninth inning, when the crowd unleashed angry boos on closer Chris Perez after he gave up two home runs to give the White Sox the lead. And then, the place went absolutely crazy when Jason Giambi came to the rescue with a two-run, pinch-hit, walk-off homer.

“All this team really needs is that little heartbeat,” Giambi said. “That little, ‘We’ve got a chance.’ That’s what we’ve done so well this year.”

He ain’t kidding.

Here is the rundown on Cleveland’s 11 walk-off wins:

April 12: 1-0 win over White Sox — Nick Swisher RBI single
May 3: 7-6 (10) win over Twins — Drew Stubbs RBI double
May 17: 6-3 (10) win over Mariners — Jason Kipnis three-run homer
May 18: 5-4 win over Mariners — Mark Reynolds RBI fielder’s choice
May 20: 10-8 (10) win over Mariners — Yan Gomes three-run homer
June 14: 2-1 win over Nationals — Kipnis RBI fielder’s choice
July 26: 11-8 (11) win over Rangers — Ryan Raburn three-run homer
July 29: 3-2 win over White Sox — Giambi pinch-hit solo homer
July 31: 3-1 (10) win over White Sox — Carlos Santana solo homer
Sept. 19: 2-1 (11) win over Astros — Matt Carson RBI single
Sept. 24: 5-4 win over White Sox — Giambi pinch-hit, two-run homer

Cleveland’s 11 walk-offs match Tampa Bay for the most this season. As it happens, the Rays are one game ahead of the Tribe for the top Wild Card spot at the moment.

Some Big G facts:

  • Marked the veteran’s 10th career walk-off home run
  • Since 1950, Giambi is one of 13 players to have 10+ walk-off shots
  • Giambi is broke his Major League record for being oldest player to hit a walk-off homer
  • Prior to this season, Hank Aaron held that record (1976)
  • Giambi is the fifth Indians batter to have three pinch-hit homers in one season
  • The last Tribesman with three pinch-hit blasts was Ron Kittle in 1987
  • Giambi’s shot was the fifth pinch-hit, walk-off homer in Progressive Field history
  • Cleveland’s 70 walk-off homers at Progressive Field lead MLB since 1994

Giambi has more than 2,000 hits and 438 home runs. Where does his latest rank in his mind?

“Right now, it’s the top of the world,” Giambi said. “I don’t even think I touched the ground, to be honest with you, running around the bases. They might’ve been able to appeal, because I don’t know if I touched any of them.”

Francona has made his affection for Giambi as a leader and player no secret this season and that continued in the wake of Tuesday’s heroics.

“I think I have a man-crush on G,” the manager said with a smile. “That was pretty awesome.”

Francona has felt fortunate to have a player of Giambi’s caliber in the clubhouse, but the team’s latest emotional win showed how the aging slugger can still have an impact on the field.

“He’s always ready,” Francona said. “And that’s why he’s playing this game, because he wants to win, and he’s willing to do anything for anybody at anytime. Fortunately for us, sometimes it’s when he steps in the batter’s box. But I still say, as much as he does there, it’s probably not even remotely what he does throughout the organization. He’s been a blessing for all of us, myself included.”

With two outs and a runner on first base, Francona turned to Giambi. Michael Brantley, who had singled, swiped second base, making a well-placed base hit enough to tie the game. Forget all that. Giambi crushed a 1-1 slider from Addison Reed, tossed his bat, thrust his arms into the air and ignited a mob scene.

Indians first baseman Nick Swisher, whose locked is adjacent to Giambi’s in the clubhouse, said it was a much-needed victory for this Cleveland club that’s fighting for a playoff spot.

“That had to have been, by far, probably one of the more emotional wins that we’ve had,” Swisher said, “especially considering where we are in the running. If you lose that game, man, you never know what’s going to happen. We’re in that position right now where we’ve got to win out. We’ve got to win.

“I almost started crying when he hit that ball. It was one of the more crazy things I’ve ever seen, because he’s been such a monster part of this team. The situations he’s come up in and how clutch he’s been for us, man, it’s emotional. It really is.”

SECOND: Fans certainly informed Perez of their displeasure when he was lifted from the game with two outs in the ninth inning. The closer allowed solo shots to Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza to give Chicago a one-run lead after entering the frame with a one-run cushion of his own.

In the aftermath of the win, Giambi sought out Perez.

“I made him give me a hug,” Giambi said. “He was a little down. He was a little down and I gave him a big hug. He needed it. There’s not a worse feeling, I think, than being in that situation. I’ve been up there striking out in a big situation, so I know the feeling.

“He’s going to be a huge part of us all the way down the stretch. If we get an opportunity to play in the playoffs, we need him. So I’m just glad that he can wipe this away and start over tomorrow.”

Over his past 20 appearances, Perez has posted a 5.95 ERA (13 earned runs in 19.2 IP) with 24 strikeouts, eight walks and .321 opponents’ batting average and a 1.73 WHIP. To his credit, he has performed better in crunch time with runners on base, but the overall body of work has been shaky going back to the beginning of August.

Perez was hitting 93-95 mph with his fastball and 84 mph with his slider in his latest outing, so nothing drastic off the norm there.

Francona plans on sticking with Perez as his closer.

“We’re not going to shift gears with five games left,” Francona said.

THIRD: Ubaldo Jimenez gets lost in the shuffle tonight, but the Indians right-hander provided another strong start. This time around, Big U held the White Sox to two runs (one charged to his line after his exit) on five hits over 6.1 innings. He struck out seven, walked two and wound up with a no-decision for his effort.

“I thought his second time through the order he wasn’t quite as crisp as he’s been,” Francona said. “But to his credit, man, he’s been a good pitcher. And there’s not a whole lot to show for it on the scoreboard when he leaves the game.”

Jimenez has a 1.04 ERA in September (34.2 IP), 1.86 ERA in the second half (77.1 IP), 2.47 ERA since May 27 (131.1 IP) and 2.66 ERA since April 29 (159 IP).

HOME: A few eyebrows were raised in the seventh inning when Francona turned to right-hander Cody Allen, and not lefty Marc Rzepczynski, to face the lefty-hitting De Aza with two on and one out. De Aza slapped a pitch into left for a game-tying single, so the move appeared even more glaring in hindsight.

Until you examine the numbers, that is.

Entering the night, De Aza was hitting .304 with an .825 OPS vs. lefties compared to .252 (.697) vs. righties. It’s a small sample size, but De Aza was also 0-for-2 with two strikeouts in his career against Allen, who also had been better against lefties (.220) than righties (.246) this season. That match supported the matchup.

“De Aza has a higher batting average against left-handers,” Francona said. “And Cody has faced him a couple times and gotten strikeouts. Just, I like that matchup. And we wanted to save Zep. If we were getting in trouble, we could go to him to end an inning a few hitters later.”

Sometimes, the percentages just don’t work out in the end.

Good thing Cleveland had Giambi there to help render that situation moot.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD RACE

1. Tampa Bay 88-69 (+1)
2. Cleveland 87-70 (–-)
3. Texas 86-71 (-1)
4. Kansas City 83-74 (-4)
5. New York 82-75 (-5)

ON DECK:

White Sox (62-95) at Indians (87-70)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

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