Surging Indians ride Shoppach's homers
Catcher drives in four in fourth career multi-homer game
CHICAGO -- Big-name Indians players have come and gone in bunches, it seems, over the past six weeks, and yet Cleveland continues to fill its lineup card with 10 players each night to give the team the best opportunity to win.
On Friday, the 10 Indians in the starting lineup trotted out to the field, and -- much like they have all week -- looked more like a pennant contender than a squad selling off parts for the future.
Kelly Shoppach belted two home runs and recorded his first three-hit game of the season, and pitcher Jeremy Sowers lasted into the eighth inning, guiding the Indians to a 6-2 victory against the White Sox in the series opener on Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field. It marked the Indians' fifth victory in seven games, all coming against the top three teams in the American League Central.
The Indians' roster these days may not always consist of household names, but that hardly appears to matter.
"It's baseball," Shoppach said. "You pitch well, you play pretty good defense and you hit, you're going to win games, regardless of what names are out there on the field."
Since June 27, the Indians have shipped off seven different players in an effort to evaluate talent and build toward winning in future years.
It began with utility man Mark DeRosa, who was traded away to the Cardinals on June 27, and it continued on Friday, when veteran right-hander Carl Pavano was claimed off waivers and dealt to the Twins. In between, the Indians lost a reigning Cy Young Award winner (Cliff Lee) and an All-Star first baseman (Victor Martinez).
"We understand the Trade Deadline and the moves and trades are part of the game," said bench coach Jeff Datz, serving as acting manager on Friday for Eric Wedge, who was attending the funeral of his mother-in-law. "That's the way it goes. These guys are professionals. They come to the ballpark each and every day and go out and try to win a baseball game. That's what they're doing, and obviously we're playing pretty well now. It's nice to see."
The Indians took the lead four batters into the game on Jhonny Peralta's double-play groundout to second with the bases loaded, one of six double plays by the Indians, tying an American League record for double-play grounders.
In the second, Shoppach bopped the first pitch he saw from White Sox ace Mark Buehrle just inside the right-field foul pole, a two-run homer scoring Jamey Carroll for a 3-0 Indians lead.
Shoppach followed that at-bat by ripping another home run in the fourth, this one a solo shot to right field, to put the Indians ahead, 5-2. It was his fourth career multi-homer game and his first since Sept. 10, 2008, against the Orioles.
But Shoppach's day offensively wasn't done. He added his fourth RBI when he blooped a single over short, plating Travis Hafner from second for a 6-2 lead.
Shoppach entered the night hitting just .209 but raised his average to .220 with a 3-for-4 showing.
"Obviously, for me personally it's been a real struggle this season, confidence-wise," Shoppach said. "Having a game like tonight helps."
Sowers, meanwhile, overcame his troubles against the White Sox, both this season and for his career. Sowers was 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA this season against the White Sox and 0-6 with a 6.31 ERA in seven career starts.
Sowers threw seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits with three strikeouts.
"It's been a tough stretch with them, with the exception of maybe one game, it's always been a close game and we just haven't found ourselves getting on top," Sowers said. "It was nice to see that happen. Obviously, I had a great supporting cast for that and they made the pitching part easy."
At one point during Friday's contest, Sowers (4-7) retired 12 consecutive White Sox hitters between the fourth and seventh innings.
Sowers' day ended after surrendering a leadoff double to Scott Podsednik and walking Gordon Beckham with nobody out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Reliever Chris Perez made things interesting by walking Jermaine Dye to load the bases for Jim Thome. But Perez struck out Thome on a check swing for the first out and then induced a popout of Paul Konerko to first baseman Andy Marte.
Left-handed reliever Tony Sipp entered the contest to face lefty hitter A.J. Pierzynski and promptly erased Pierzynski on a lineout to second baseman Carroll to help the Indians escape the eighth inning unscathed and preserve the victory for Sowers.
"I don't know their record recently, but it seems like every time I turn on SportsCenter they are winning," Beckham said of the Indians. "They are playing pretty good right now, but we need to wake the bats up a bit."
Cleveland remains 15 games under .500 (47-62) but now stands 11-5 in its last 16 games, and the team appears to be gaining steam as the second half of the season continues.
"I know over the past couple of years, we've been kind of a second-half team for whatever reason," Sowers said. "I'm not going to offer any theories to that. Just a lot of our guys are vying, hopefully, for a job next year and are hopefully trying to make a case for that."
Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.