Indians reverse Tigers' early burst
Five-run first-inning hole promptly erased en route to win
CLEVELAND -- The ovation greeted the Indians for something that happened so early in the game that it might not have mattered.It isn't often, as right-hander Scott Elarton put it later, that a team can fall behind, 5-0 in the top of the first inning, then take the field in the top of the second with a 6-5 lead.
But that's just what the Indians did on Monday night. They wiped out a big deficit, added on more runs, then went on to win a slugfest with the Tigers, 10-8, in front of 22,713 at The Jake.Seeing that kind of resilience could bring only one thing: cheers. And the Tribe got plenty of cheers as the team took the field in the second. "That was nice," said Casey Blake, who played a big part in the win. "It's nice to hear fans cheering for us. That was cool." Blake & Co. had been looking at disaster before they took one swing at Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman. Fresh off a 5-2 road trip, the Indians didn't need to return to The Jake and self-destruct. All season long, the place had almost seemed like their temple of doom. The Tribe had sported a not-so-flashy 32-31 record at home, a stark contrast to its 41-27 record on the road. Nobody had a reason for the difference, not one that made sense. Oh, of course, the fact the place didn't rock 'n' roll like The Jake of yesteryear didn't go unnoticed. The empty seats left many wondering aloud if the fans here were interested in embracing a team that played hard from the first out to its last out. Fans saw a Technicolor example of that in this win. "We could have folded up tonight," said Elarton, whose spotty work in the first put the Tribe in its 5-0 hole.
Fold? No, the Indians couldn't. Every player in the team's clubhouse had longed to play meaningful games in the last weeks of the season. The players said so often. Now, every game they play, with a Wild Card spot within their reach, is meaningful.They played the Tigers as if a lot were at stake, too. For after seeing Elarton pounded in the first, they rebounded against Bonderman. As usual, Grady Sizemore ignited the Tribe's comeback. He singled, Coco Crisp doubled Sizemore home and Jhonny Peralta doubled Crisp home. It was a nice start toward getting back into the game, but the Tribe had more to do. Travis Hafner stroked a grounder just inside first-base line that looked as if it would end up as a double and another run. But Carlos Pena speared it and beat Hafner to the bag for the inning's first out. Peralta moved to third on the play, and he would score on Victor Martinez's sacrifice fly. The Indians had more to do against Bonderman (14-11, 4.44 ERA), one of the best young pitchers in the game.
"He's had a great year," manager Eric Wedge said. "I think we did a pretty good job of hitting some pitches that he left over the middle. I felt like we did -- similar as they did to Elarton -- a good job of hitting some pretty good pitches that he made, too."
It was a not-so-good pitch, though, that the Indians used to keep their first inning alive. It led to Ronnie Belliard's easy ground ball to Tigers shortstop Omar Infante, who turned that easy grounder into an error that opened the door for three more runs. Ben Broussard's triple knocked in Belliard, Aaron Boone's single knocked in Broussard and Blake's double knocked in Boone.Six hits, six runs and a standing ovation. "We felt it," Wedge said. "Everybody in there felt it. It was almost a confirmation in terms of what these guys have been doing. The people who were here tonight showed a great appreciation for our team." In Wedge's mind, fans saw a typical performance. They saw a team that didn't give in to adversity and that played each out, even on a night when its starting pitching, a strength this season, let the ballclub down. Other parts of the team chipped in and helped. It was the offense first, the defense throughout and finally the bullpen, which got rock-solid performances from winner Fernando Cabrera (2-0, 1.40 ERA), Rafael Betancourt, Bob Howry and Bob Wickman. "It was a lot of people that contributed to this day," Wedge said. "But our bullpen did an outstanding job, needless to say. So did our offense." The offense prompted the cheers, even if it wasn't the packed house that cheered wildly for the Indians teams of the '90s. "We've gotta win games, and everybody knows it," Broussard said. "It would be nice if it was a packed house. ... This place is a rockin' place when it's a packed house."
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.