CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner is heading into an uncertain future when the book closes on the 2012 season. If the veteran designated hitter is in his final days as a member of the Indians, he has at least given fans one last look at the slugger he strived to be for the club.
In the ninth inning on Tuesday night, Hafner sent a pitch from Jake Peavy towering high over right field, where the baseball struck the foul pole for a game-tying, two-run home run. It was a dramatic blast that helped propel the Indians to a 4-3, 12-inning victory over the White Sox.
"That was huge," Alomar said. "I'm happy for him. Very happy."
It was Jason Donald who sent Cleveland home as walk-off winners. In the 12th inning, Donald yanked a pitch from Chicago reliever Nate Jones down the left-field line for a game-winning single that scored Lonnie Chisenhall. As soon as he touched first base, Donald turned and sprinted toward the mob of teammates pouring from the dugout.
A pile of players formed near the mound while fireworks popped above the stadium.
"I've always been on the other side of it when you rush out to get the guy," Donald said with a grin. "The guy always runs away from you. That makes it a little hard to get to him. I just thought I'd nip it in the bud and go right at them, take them by surprise."
Hafner's home run was the catalyst for the comeback.
Hafner has spent the past decade in an Indians uniform, tasting stardom briefly before injuries took a toll on his body and performance over the past five seasons. His heroic blast on Tuesday night marked the 200th home run of his Cleveland career and it would be a fitting way for him to wrap up his time with the Tribe.
Asked if he would sit Hafner in the season finale on Wednesday, the Indians' interim manager smiled.
"Maybe I should just leave it at that, right?" Alomar said. "No, we talked. We had a conversation and we agreed that we would give him the last day here. He's in tomorrow as the DH unless he comes in and he has two broken legs."
Hafner plans on soaking everything in -- just in case it is his final game with the Tribe.
"I'll just try to enjoy everything as much as possible," Hafner said. "Really, I'll just try to have fun."
Over the offseason, the Indians are expected to decline the $13 million club option on Hafner's contract, opting instead to pay him a $2.75 million buyout. There is always the chance that the Tribe offers him a reduced deal for the 2013 season, but all signs seem to point toward Hafner testing the free-agent waters.
Hafner is not sure what the Indians' front office is thinking, but the 35-year-old DH is open to returning to Cleveland.
"It's a possibility," Hafner said. "There's a lot of uncertainties right now. I haven't talked to anybody. The organization, I've been here so long and a lot of these guys are like family. I've really enjoyed playing in this city and the fans have been great. I've had a great time here."
This season, knee and back injuries have limited Hafner to 65 games, during which he has hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs. It is the fifth injury-marred season in a row for the once-promising slugger, who had four straight years of 24-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs for the Indians from 2004-07.
Over the past five seasons, Hafner has averaged just 85 games because of a variety of health woes. Being repeatedly sidelined over the years has weighed on him, but he knows there is only so much within a player's control.
"Certainly that's been the most frustrating thing," Hafner said. "Missing time and not being out there to play full seasons. Plus, when you miss time, you kind of get out of rhythm and things like that. It's been very frustrating.
"But, at the same time, I feel like I work as hard as anybody in the offseason to stay healthy and to be in shape. There's really nothing more that I could have done."
His teammates certainly don't fault Hafner for the many trips to the disabled list.
"Haf's been a mainstay here," Donald said. "And he's been a pro through it all. He's battled through injuries. He's a consummate professional. He comes in every day and gets his work done. I have a great deal of respect for him, just watching him, how he goes about his work."
In the final start of a rough season, Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson turned in a quality start, allowing just one run on four hits over six innings on Tuesday. He walked away with a no-decision, but offered the Indians (68-93) one last look at the kind of potential he has as a staff leader.
"Better late than never," said Masterson, who ended the year 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA. "I'm just thankful to be out there. The Lord has blessed me to be able to stay healthy the whole season."
Hafner's homer overcame a lapse by Indians closer Chris Perez in the top half of the frame. Beyond a brief shouting match with Chicago's bench -- after the closer hit Tyler Flowers with a pitch -- Perez also surrendered a two-run home run to Dayan Viciedo that had the Tribe on the brink of defeat.
With Chicago (84-77) clinging to a 3-1 advantage, Michael Brantley opened the home half of the ninth with a pinch-hit single. Hafner then stepped to the plate and crushed a 1-0 offering from Peavy, who dominated the Tribe over the first eight innings.
It was a home run Hafner's team, and his fans, won't soon forget.
"We wouldn't expect anything else from him," Donald said. "Whether that's his last at-bat here, or whatever happens, it's a good way to end the season, regardless."