Trying to start this recap has not been easy. I am trying to come up with the words to describe the emotions, the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows of last night’s ninth inning at Progressive Field. In a season of magical moments, we have now seen the pinnacle. The best part about it – this moment was delivered by the most popular player in the clubhouse, a 42-year old gray beard who sent Tribe fans everywhere into a frenzy. It was a time warp back to the 90’s when we almost took flashes like this for granted.
And make no mistake, the Indians HAD TO win this game with the pathetically awful Houston Astros providing zero help against the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays shutting out the New York Yankees. Losing a game against the Chicago White Sox with your best pitcher on the mound in your home stadium just could not happen.
Getting there required a what felt like a ride on the Millennium Force at Cedar Point. The Indians offense couldn’t muster much against White Sox lefty Hector Santiago. Ubaldo Jimenez again pitched like an ace, departing the game in a 1-1 tie with one out in the seventh inning after giving up a single to Gordon Beckham and a walk to Josh Phegley. It was a tough call for manager Terry Francona, who chose to lift his best starter for reliever Cody Allen. Allen has been terrific this season as well, but he was greeted by an RBI single from Alejandro De Aza. The 2-1 Sox lead wouldn’t last long.
As he has done time and time again this season, Michael Brantley delivered when his team needed it the most. Earlier in the game, Brantley had driven in the Tribe’s only run on an RBI flair to center in the second. In this at-bat, Dr. Smooth took Santiago deep to right field to tie things up at two. It was his 10th home run of the season, none was bigger than this one. Mike Aviles followed with a single. He would end up on third with two outs, setting the stage for Jason Kipnis. The Tribe’s All-Star second baseman has been in a funk, but with the lead run on third, Kipnis clutched up with a single the other way off of reliever Nathan Jones.
Everything was set up for the Tribe to close things out. Joe Smith pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and the Indians held that 4-3 lead into the ninth. Chris Perez came out of the bullpen to face he bottom third of the Sox lineup. There is less than a week left. Every single game means so much. If there was ever a time for CP to make things easy on his team and Tribe fans everywhere, it was this one. Instead, the first batter Perez faced, Dayan Viciedo, took him deep the opposite way to tie the game. Three batters later, De Aza followed suit. After giving up a single to Alexi Ramirez, Francona emerged from the dugout to lift his closer.
I’ve seen a thousands of baseball games in my day, and I can’t ever remember a player getting booed this mercifully in his home stadium. And he deserved every single bit of it.
Here is the thing about baseball. You have to get 27 outs before you can win. The Indians still had one more chance to make magic one more time at Progressive Field.
On came Sox closer Addison Reed, who entered with 39 saves. He blew away Yan Gomes for the first out. Brantley was next. He hit a hard grounder to the hole between first and second. Beckham made a play on the ball, but somehow the ball took a funny hop on him and got into right field. The Indians were suddenly bringing the winning run to the plate. Aviles would K for the second out and the top of the order came back around. Michael Bourn had jammed his shoulder an inning earlier and had been replaced in the game by Drew Stubbs. Matt Carson had come on for defensive purposes in right. He was due up, but Francona had his one big bullet ready – Jason Giambi.
Earlier this summer, Giambi hit a walkoff homer to beat the White Sox. It was one of the most memorable moments of this season to remember. Could he do it again?
Brantley stole second base without a throw and with the shift on for Giambi, any ground ball to the left side would tie the game. After the game, Giambi admitted that this was what he was trying to do. Instead, he got a fastball in that he could drive. And then, this happened.
What an unbelievable moment. Does it get any better than that? Jason Freaking Giambi put himself down in Tribe history forever with one swing. He will never have to buy a beer in this town for the rest of his life. The Indians mastery of the White Sox continued. You have to wonder what the guys in their clubhouse must be thinking. It was the third time the Indians have beaten them with a walkoff homer at Progressive Field. Two of them have come off the bat from the 42-year old part time DH/full time mentor. With one game remaining in the season series, the Tribe has now taken 16 of 18 and 13 in a row against the South Siders.
Now lets get back to Giambi. It has been said time and time again that he is the most beloved player in the clubhouse. Just watch the video again and check out the reaction shots from his teammates. You can see it in their eyes. They couldn’t be more happy for the man they call “Big G.”
Said Nick Swisher: “I almost started crying when he hit that ball.”
“I think I have a man crush on ‘G,'” Francona said. “That was pretty awesome. Boy, did he hit that ball. Wow!”
So how did Giambi feel?
“This is the stuff you dream about,” said Giambi, 42. “Coming down the stretch, trying to get a playoff berth. It doesn’t get any bigger. It really doesn’t. I’m speechless……I ran into it. . .I hit it. There’s nothing more special. That’s what keeps you coming back every year.”
As I said before, losing this game would have been completely devastating, knowing they were three outs away from the win. But as they showed time and time again, the Indians just don’t die.
“That had to have been, by far, one of the more emotional wins that we’ve had, especially considering where we are in the running,” said Swisher. “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.”
Now the only lingering question is what to do about Perez. Ever the consummate teammate, Giambi made sure to seek out the Tribe’s embattled closer after the game.
“I made him give me a hug,” said Giambi. “And I gave him a big hug. He was a little down. He needed it. There’s not a worse feeling than being in that situation. I’ve struck out in big situation. He’s going to be a huge part of us all the way down the stretch.”
Francona was asked if he planned on making a move in the closer role. As expected, he is sticking with his guy, saying it was too late in the season to make such a change. Keep in mind though, there is precedent in recent years that has worked. The Cardinals used Adam Wainwright as their closer in 2006 on their way to a World Series title. He had ZERO saves in the regular season. They also moved Edward Mujica out of the role last week, replacing him with Trevor Rosenthal, meaning they will have a new closer in this year’s playoffs.
Regardless, let us not spoil this incredible night with more Perez talk. This is all about Giambi and what he means to this team. So many people were up in arms about keeping him around on the roster all season. I noticed nobody is bringing that up this morning. In a career of high highs and low lows, this was an all timer for Big G.
“Right now it’s top of the world. I don’t think I even touched the ground. They might have been able to appeal because I don’t know if I touched any of the bases,” he said.
Tonight will be the last regular season home game at Progressive Field. A crowd over over 21,000 came out last night. Let us see if we can do better tonight Tribe fans! Danny Salazar (1-3, 3.09 ERA) will take the ball, sans the pitch count, tonight for the Indians. He will face off with Dylan Axelrod (4-10, 5.72 ERA).
(SIDE NOTE – I give STO’s Matt Underwood grief, but his call of Giambi’s blast was terrific)
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)