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Must C Catch: Damon makes a leaping grab to rob homer

DETROIT -- Johnny Damon wanted to make the Tigers pay for inviting him into the batter's box. An intentional walk to Michael Brantley in the fifth inning on Wednesday night loaded the bases, bringing the veteran outfielder to the plate for the Indians.

Whether Damon could turn the strategy into a mistake on Detroit's part was one thing. Calling it a mistake to make the move is something entirely different. Given his play to this point this season, Damon fully understood why the Tigers did not mind pitching to him.

"That's probably what I would've done, too," Damon said following Cleveland's 9-6 victory over Detroit at Comerica Park. "I'm hitting .180, and I've been scuffling with runners on base. I think they did the right thing. It just didn't pay off for them."

Damon -- in his first game back with the Tribe after being away for three days on paternity leave -- sliced a pitch from Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer into left-center field for a two-run single that kept Cleveland's momentum going. It was a crucial hit within a nine-hit, nine-run attack that helped the Indians charge to a 5-0 record against Detroit this season.

The outpouring of offense helped overcome a shaky start from right-hander Jeanmar Gomez, who yielded six runs in five innings for the Indians (30-25). Brantley and Casey Kotchman powered the offense with a home run apiece, and Damon highlighted a strong defensive display from the Tribe by robbing a home run from Prince Fielder in the second.

Fielder led off the inning by sending a 2-1 pitch from Gomez arcing high over left field. As Damon ran back, the pitcher watched in near disbelief as the ball kept carrying. Damon closed in on the wall, jumped and made a spectacular catch over the top of the fence.

"That was crazy," Gomez said. "For me, he didn't hit the ball very well, but he has that power. When I saw Johnny Damon going back, going back, going back, I was like, 'Oh, my God.' He's going back and going back, and when he jumped and he got it, wow. That was crazy. That was good."

"His legs are still there," Indians manager Manny Acta said.

Damon was smiling as he threw the baseball back to the infield, and even Fielder grinned after rounding first base before heading back to the dugout.

"That's a great play," Fielder said. "There's nothing you can do about that. It's just a good play. I don't care whether you're winning or not, that's a good play."

Damon sounded a bit surprised at how far the ball carried off Fielder's bat.

"When it first got up, I had no idea how far it was going to go," Damon said. "Fortunately, I got back and was able to make a great play."

Between his two-run single and highlight-reel catch, the Tribe will keep its fingers crossed that this might be a sign of things to come for Damon.

"To step off the plane and play the game he played today," Acta said, "I hope that this is a time when Johnny is going to come out and pick us up."

The 38-year-old Damon joined Cleveland on May 2 and hit .180 through his first 25 games with the club before taking a three-day break after the birth of his twin daughters. Acta threw the veteran left fielder right back into the mix on Wednesday, and Damon played a key role in the Tribe's latest trip to the win column.

In the fourth inning, Damon drew a walk against Scherzer and then stole second base. It turned out to be wasted energy considering Kotchman followed by drilling a 3-2 offering from Scherzer (5-4) over the right-field wall for a two-run homer that put the Indians ahead, 5-1.

Brantley put Cleveland on the board in the first inning with his first homer of the season. After Detroit right fielder Brennan Boesch botched a catch attempt on a fly ball from Carlos Santana for an error, Brantley capitalized by launching a three-run shot to put the Tigers (25-31) in a quick 3-0 hole.

"I was just trying to make sure I got a fastball early that I could kind of drive," Brantley said. "It's big to have an extra out. You want to make sure you swing at a good quality pitch, and I did. I was able to put a good swing on it."

Cleveland piled on four runs between the fifth and sixth -- chasing Scherzer after 4 1/3 innings in the process -- which went a long way in helping Gomez (4-4) earn a win. The righty surrendered solo homers to Don Kelly and Miguel Cabrera, and then allowed four runs on five hits in his fifth and final frame to help Detroit back into the game.

Cleveland saw its 8-2 advantage quickly cut down to an 8-6 lead, convincing Acta to turn things over to his bullpen. Tony Sipp and Joe Smith held Detroit in check in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively, bridging the gap to the late-inning combination of setup man Vinnie Pestano and closer Chris Perez.

Pestano tamed the Tigers in the eighth and Perez collected his Major League-leading 19th save with a clean ninth. Pestano and Perez have appeared in all five wins over Detroit this season, combining for 10 strikeouts in 10 innings, with just one run allowed. Perez has saved each victory.

"Those guys in the middle of their order can really swing the bat," Acta said. "In a heartbeat, they can put a crooked number on you. Gomez just didn't have it for us. They just had their way with him over the last three innings, so our bullpen had to step in."

Damon, who went 1-for-2 with two RBIs and a pair of walks, was thrilled to help the Indians immediately upon rejoining the roster. His goal now is to find a way to keep it going.

"My job is just to be better than I was that first month," Damon said.

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