CLEVELAND -- Carlos Santana dropped his bat and thrust both arms into the air as he made his way up the first-base line on Thursday afternoon. His Indians teammates poured out of the dugout, chasing the catcher down for the celebratory beating.
Santana had just ripped a pitch from Mariners closer Brandon League into center field for a walk-off single that completed a comeback and sent Cleveland to a 6-5 victory in 11 innings at Progressive Field. After being knocked down into the infield grass, Santana kept his arms up as protection as he absorbed a flurry of friendly punches.
Where did his teammates get him the most?
"Everywhere," Santana said with a grin. "But I don't care. I was just so excited."
The American League Central-leading Indians (22-16) were more than relieved to enjoy such a celebration after the way the afternoon began. Cleveland overcame an uncharacteristically wild outing from starter Zach McAllister, as well as an early slumber by the offense, in order to collect its first win in five tries in extra innings at home.
League was a familiar foe for the Tribe's final push.
Over the course of his career, the Mariners closer has blown seven saves in nine chances against the Indians. Cleveland -- winners of four straight -- has already served League with a pair of blown saves this season after doing so twice a year ago. When League took the mound in the 11th, clinging to a 5-4 lead over the Tribe, the Indians knew history might be on their side.
"I think it was probably in his mind, too," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "We know that we've done it off him before and I think we know we can do it again. Doing it off him before means guys have seen him and guys have had success against him. I think people are pretty confident when they go up to the plate against him."
Indians manager Manny Acta did not disagree.
"You don't get to closers that often," Acta said. "You don't see that very often. The fact that we've done it a few times against him gives the guys the confidence that, 'Hey, we've done it before. We can do it.'"
League, who has a 9.18 ERA in 16 2/3 career innings against the Indians, opened the decisive 11th inning by issuing a walk to Jose Lopez. It was Lopez who launched a critical three-run home run off Seattle reliever Steve Delabar in the eighth inning to pull the game into a 4-4 tie, sending the contest on its way to extra innings.
That three-run blast -- combined with the run-scoring single provided by Asdrubal Cabrera in the seventh inning -- did well in overcoming the fact that Mariners righty Hector Noesi blanked Cleveland's bats for the first six innings. During that same span, Seattle (16-24) plated four runs off McAllister, who walked five in his 5 2/3 innings on the mound.
The Mariners tacked on a run against sidearmer Joe Smith in the top of the 11th inning, but that turned out to be a minor setback when it was all said and done.
"It was great," Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner said. "Lopez had a huge three-run homer for us in a game that we really didn't do much. We had plenty of chances, but we couldn't get the big hit. He got a huge hit for us there in the eighth, and then we just battled and came back."
Following the walk to Lopez in the 11th inning, League settled back in momentarily with a strikeout of Shin-Soo Choo. The wheels swiftly came spinning off for the closer, though. Kipnis drew a one-out walk and Cabrera followed by pulling a pitch from League into right field for an RBI single that tied the game at 5.
League then issued a third walk -- this one to pinch-hitter Aaron Cunningham -- to set the stage for Santana's heroics. The Indians catcher worked into a 3-2 count and tried to keep his approach as simple as possible against the hard-throwing sinkerballer.
"I know he throws a hard sinker -- 95 mph," Santana said. "It's very important for me, when I go to the plate, to think about trying to have good contact up the middle."
Santana did precisely that with his line-drive single that bounced into center.
Once again, the Indians had League's number. Not that the closer believes that was the issue.
"My control was just absolutely unacceptable," League said. "I can't remember the last time I walked three guys in a third of an inning. When I wasn't handing out free passes and I did get the ball down, it was right down the middle."
That was fine with Santana, and so were all the punches he took as a result.
"If I had an opportunity to do the same thing again," Santana said, "I wouldn't even care if I got hurt. I was just so happy."