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Must C Clutch: Phelps picks good time for first homer

CLEVELAND -- Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner have both played the role of walk-off hero for the Indians this year.

Add Cord Phelps to the litany of late-innings legends.

Phelps slugged the first home run of his career to right-center field in the bottom of the 11th, as the Indians beat Pittsburgh, 5-2, to complete a three-game Interleague sweep of the Pirates on Sunday.

Phelps dug his cleats into the batter's box in the 11th hitting just .100 on the season, with two hits in 20 at-bats. But he launched a 1-0 pitch from Pirates reliever Tim Wood into the seats, deserted after a 1-hour, 57-minute rain delay in the eighth inning.

"It was worth the wait to win the ballgame," Tribe manager Manny Acta said.

Phelps, called up from Triple-A Columbus on June 8 to split time at second base with Orlando Cabrera, said he had never recorded a walk-off hit of any kind in his baseball life.

"That's something that he won't be able to forget," Acta said. "He hit that ball pretty good. He's been scuffling since he got up here, so that's good, so he can get some confidence back."

The Indians have shown a flair for the dramatic this season, etching winning moments into fans' memory banks with walk-off homers and suicide squeezes. Five hours of missed opportunities added to the buildup on Sunday before Phelps delivered the exciting conclusion.

The Pirates stranded 14 runners. The Indians left seven on base.

"At the end of the day, that's a lot," Pittsburgh skipper Clint Hurdle said. "There were opportunities, and we weren't able to capitalize."

The Pirates used a pair of walks and a hit batter to load the bases in the ninth against Chris Perez, but the Indians closer induced a Michael McKenry groundout to escape unharmed.

Indians pitchers retired the Pirates in order just twice. Still, six Tribe relievers combined to throw six shutout innings.

"You can't say enough about our bullpen," Acta said. "Those guys, every single one of them, went out there and kept us in the game up until Cord Phelps came through."

With one out in the 10th, Pittsburgh's Brandon Wood sent a sharp grounder to the left of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. But Cabrera, far from a stranger to the nightly highlight reels, extended his bare hand, clutched the baseball as it whizzed past his body, and fired an accurate throw to first to retire the third baseman.

"Everyone was going crazy," Indians starter Justin Masterson said. "We reminded him that he did have a glove. That was incredible."

Masterson wasn't efficient or sharp on Sunday. He didn't have his best command. And for the 10th consecutive start, he didn't earn a victory.

But Masterson minimized the damage while laboring through five innings.

"Masterson struggled with his command of his fastball," Acta said. "He couldn't pitch inside to lefties and racked up his pitch count. But he did give us five [innings], and limited the damage to just two runs."

Pittsburgh jumped on the 6-foot-6 right-hander early, scoring twice in the first inning. But the Indians answered in the second frame with a pair of runs, the first coming on catcher Santana's second home run of the series.

Nearly five hours elapsed before anyone crossed home plate again.

Masterson departed after five innings, having thrown 110 pitches and allowing two runs. He scattered seven hits and worked around a walk and a pair of passed balls by catcher Lou Marson. One of those defensive miscues came on a third strike to Wood during a third-inning jam. The passed ball loaded the bases, but Masterson got shortstop Ronny Cedeno to ground out to third base.

"They just had me throw a lot of pitches," Masterson said. "Early on, a lot of close pitches."

Masterson won his first five starts, but has now gone 10 outings without a victory, dating to April 26.

That's not to say Masterson hasn't done his part. The Indians have scored five or more runs in just one of his past 10 starts, despite Masterson's 3.68 ERA over that span.

Masterson's counterpart, Pittsburgh starter Jeff Karstens, tossed seven innings, yielding two runs (one earned) on five hits, effectively mixing his fastball with snail-slow off-speed pitches that routinely clocked in at 65-70 mph. Karstens notched four strikeouts, three of which came at center fielder Grady Sizemore's expense. Sizemore went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts.

With his 11th-inning blast, Phelps became the first Indians batter to end a game with his first career homer since Ben Francisco on June 29, 2007.

"Cord deserved to win the ballgame, because he was hitting the ball hard the whole day," Acta said. "He was the right guy at the plate at that situation, and he hit it good. I'm sure he's going to enjoy that moment in the big leagues." Comments