Blake's walk-off caps C.C.'s career night
Indians stun Royals after Sabathia records 13 strikeouts
CLEVELAND -- Casey Blake was worried about his teammates.
As he stood at the heart of a viciously joyous mass after lacing a game-winning homer to lift the Tribe to a 5-4 comeback victory over the Royals on Friday night at Jacobs Field, Blake wondered if his pummel-happy teammates were underestimating his strength.
"Yeah, it's cool," Blake deadpanned. "But I just hope nobody hurts their fists punching me. When you hit steel like that ..."
The third baseman, however, excused his teammates for perhaps forgetting about that steel. As he pointed out, "It's been a long time since that's happened to me."
Yes, the man oft-maligned for his showings in the clutch delivered in the biggest way, and the good times continued to roll for the Tribe. By hitting home runs in each of the last three innings to win for the 16th time in their last 20 games, the Indians picked up ace C.C. Sabathia while dropping their magic number to 10 and maintaining a 5 1/2-game perch above the second-place Tigers in the American League Central.
This one came by the same modus operandi the Tribe so often relied on during the first half; lag behind early, gradually draw closer and make everything sweet in the last at-bat.
The Tribe's bats were stifled by Kansas City's Brian Bannister through six innings. The rookie right-hander allowed just one run on two hits, which actually was a regression from the seven innings of scoreless ball he tossed in his only other career start against the Indians.
"Things were looking fairly bleak there," Blake said.
At least they were until the Indians were granted a reprieve from Bannister in the seventh and could at last go to work against a trio of Royals relievers.
With the Indians down 4-1 in the seventh after Sabathia -- who struck out a career-high 13 hitters over seven innings -- gave up four runs in the fifth, Franklin Gutierrez lined a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers off Joel Peralta.
Victor Martinez then lofted the tying shot into the first row of the right-field stands the following inning against David Riske. It was the first pitch of the inning, setting a theme for the night's two biggest blows.
Blake, too, was looking to be aggressive with Riske's first pitch of the ninth.
"You know he's coming after you," he said.
Not that he was looking for a homer. In fact, he was trying to clear his mind of any thoughts. After hitting 14 homers going into the All-Star break, Blake came to the plate with just one since and none since Aug. 1.
"I've been working on some things," he said with a laugh. "I don't know what it's been. I think it's just one of those things you just can't explain. The more I think about it, the more [the homers] don't come."
Blake connected on Riske's first-pitch fastball and drove it into the left-field bleachers. Blake's third career walk-off homer was in the books, and so was the Indians' 39th come-from-behind win.
"[Blake's] hit some real big home runs for us, and they don't get much bigger than tonight," manager Eric Wedge said. "I know people get on people from time to time because they don't do this or do that with runners in scoring position. Well, let me tell you that it's not just about stats. Timing's everything in this game, and his timing has been pretty good late in ballgames this year."
As for that homer thing, Blake thinks he might be on to something good.
"It seems like throughout my career, I've hit them in spurts, and hopefully, this is the start of one," he said.
For now, though, this homer alone was plenty important, as the Indians took another step toward their first playoff appearance since 2001.
"To come back and win that game when we need every game we can get right now, it's pretty cool," Blake said.
That is, as long as everybody makes it out of that celebration healthy.
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.