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DET@CLE: Santana's grand slam wins it for the Tribe

CLEVELAND -- You could get caught up in the moment, basking in awe at the grand slam that jumped off Carlos Santana's bat in the bottom of the ninth.

You could pile on the pleasantries about the way Jeanmar Gomez limited damage, or the way Asdrubal Cabrera came through in the clutch, or the way Shelley Duncan aroused the senses or the way the bullpen delivered late.

Or you could, in the wake of the Indians' 9-5 win Friday night at Progressive Field, think about all that transpired here over the course of three hours on this frigid Northeast Ohio night, and get right down to the heart of the matter, as closer Chris Perez did.

"We had no business winning this game," Perez said. "And we did."

And that's the thing about these shockingly confident Cleveland Indians, who have now won 11 straight at home and, with 17 wins overall, have set a new club record for April victories. No matter what was predicted for them, no matter what is expected of them, no matter how many people still forecast gloom and doom for their immediate future, all they've done in this first month of the 2011 season is win, win, win.

They've won with hot bats, with golden gloves, with sizzling starts and with strategic surprises.

What they haven't done much of, however, is win when all seems lost.

But that's what happened on this night.

It looked lost when a command-challenged Gomez couldn't get his pitches down and the Tigers pounced. In the first inning, with one on, Gomez tossed a changeup to Miguel Cabrera that was like something out of the slow-pitch cage. Cabrera did with it what MVP-type bats are supposed to do with such things, yanking it 352 feet out onto the left-field porch to make it 2-0.

Right away, this game had that awkward, uncomfortable feel. It was clear that Gomez, thrust into the rotation by an injury to Mitch Talbot and lacking a tick or two of the velocity he showed in the second half of last season, didn't have his best stuff, and it would soon become equally clear that the more established Max Scherzer did have his.

"The way the game started," manager Manny Acta said, "reminded us a little bit of some of the tough times we went through last year, where we were already trailing before we came to the plate."

They would continue to trail because they had a sleep-walk showing going against Scherzer for five innings. The Indians hit into a pair of double plays and only had one runner reach second base in that span.

So this had all the makings of a one-sided affair. But this is where those pleasantries about Gomez kick in.

In the second inning, the Tigers threatened Gomez again, with two runners in scoring position and one out. But when Gomez got Brandon Inge to hit a sharp grounder to third, Jack Hannahan fielded it and got Ryan Raburn caught in a rundown on the third-base line. The Indians retired Raburn so quickly that Alex Avila was unable to advance to third. And after Austin Jackson singled to load the bases, Gomez got out of the jam by striking out Will Rhymes.

The Tigers would get to Gomez again in the fourth, when an Avila sacrifice fly scored Raburn, making it 3-0 in the Tigers' favor. And that might as well have been 13-0, the way Scherzer looked. But again, it could have been much worse.

"Gomez," Acta said, "did very good damage control."

That finally came in handy in the sixth. Asdrubal Cabrera singled with two out, and Shin-Soo Choo and Santana each drew a walk to load them up for Duncan, once again filling in for an injured Travis Hafner. Duncan skirted a single through the left-hand side to score a pair.

Now that the offense was coherent, it was the bullpen's responsibility to keep it close. Gomez was done after 5 2/3 innings, so the 'pen had plenty of work ahead. In the seventh, Chad Durbin left two aboard with one out for Joe Smith. A Jhonny Peralta single and another Avila sac fly made it 5-2.

This was a test for the Tribe. Their wins, particularly at home, had become a matter of routine, not rallies.

But when Matt LaPorta connected on Scherzer's 1-0 offering for a solo shot with one out in the seventh, this rally began in earnest. And after Grady Sizemore drew a two-out walk on four pitches, Asdrubal Cabrera punched a first-pitch fastball out to right to knot the game up at 5.

"I wasn't able to execute," Scherzer said. "It led to a four-pitch walk, and instead of being a solo homer, it's a two-run homer. That's the frustrating part. It's the walk, not the homer."

And now it was a new ballgame.

The Indians stranded a pair in the eighth, but Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez shut the Tigers down in order in the eighth and ninth, respectively. And in their last at-bat, the Indians set the table against Joaquin Benoit when Hannahan and Sizemore ripped consecutive singles. Benoit intentionally walked Cabrera to set up the force out at home, and Choo struck out swinging for the first out.

But patience paid off, as Santana worked Benoit into a 3-1 count.

"I had the opportunity," Santana said. "I tried to get good contact and win it for the team. I was not thinking too much."

No, this was simple see ball, hit ball, and Benoit gave him a meatball. It was a four-seamer up in the zone that Santana smacked into the right-field seats, 373 feet from home plate, where he would be greeted by his teammates and given the custom celebratory pounding.

"Very exciting," Santana said of his first career grand slam, the seventh game-ending grand slam in this ballpark's history. "I'm very happy."

And for the rest of the red-hot Indians, who won on a night when they should have lost, the feeling was mutual. Comments