Down to last strike, Indians rally for win
Marte hits two-run home run off closer for win in opener
BALTIMORE -- The Indians were in deep trouble in the top of the ninth Thursday night. Baltimore closer Jim Johnson was protecting a one-run lead and needed only seven pitches to get the first two outs, leaving Cleveland with the bottom of its order to try to save the game.
Matt LaPorta came up first. The No. 8 hitter fell behind 1-2, battled Johnson through an eight-pitch at-bat and got a single to center. Andy Marte followed and worked the count full before hitting a two-run homer to left that gave the Indians a stunning 5-4 victory over the Orioles before 13,991 at Camden Yards.
It was not an easy victory for the Indians (57-70), who twice were within one strike of losing in the ninth. Kerry Wood then had to wriggle out of a two-on, two-out jam in the bottom of the ninth to complete his 17th save.
But everything started with LaPorta and Marte.
"The two at-bats there in the ninth inning were obviously huge for us," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Both were long at-bats, tough at-bats against a guy out there throwing the ball pretty good."
Johnson got ahead of LaPorta and had five chances to end the game, but couldn't do it.
LaPorta stayed patient and lined a single under Johnson's glove and into center to keep the Indians alive.
"The guy's got great stuff," LaPorta said. "I knew that going into the at-bat, and I just wanted to put up a good at-bat for the ballclub. I just kept fighting, and I got the better end of it that time. I really just tried to bear down."
Johnson (3-5) then started Marte with three balls before getting two strikes. The big right-hander threw another fastball, but Marte hit a high shot that just got into the left-field seats.
"I put a good swing on it. I knew I hit it good," Marte said. "I didn't think it was going to go out. I thought it was enough to score the run from first but [we got] a better result."
The late dramatics overshadowed a great night from center fielder Grady Sizemore. He went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs. He homered to start the game, made a great diving catch to save a run in the sixth before getting a single and scoring to cut the Orioles' lead to 4-3 in the eighth.
Sizemore's homer gave the Indians a 1-0 lead. The Orioles (52-76) tied it on Melvin Mora's homer in the second before Marte tripled and scored on a Sizemore ground out in the fifth.
Baltimore took the lead on a Luke Scott RBI double in the sixth. Matt Wieters made it 4-2 with a solo homer off Jess Todd in the seventh before Shin-Soo Choo's RBI double off Danys Baez made it 4-3 in the eighth.
The Indians also got a good effort from starter Aaron Laffey, who gave up three runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings and was pitching in front of several friends and family members. Laffey is from Cumberland, Md., about two hours outside of Baltimore.
But Laffey's biggest problem was Mora, the third baseman who's likely playing his final year with the Orioles. Mora went 3-for-3 off Laffey, who kept the rest of the lineup quiet.
"It's like one guy every game for the past, like four starts, goes 3-for-3 off me," Laffey said. "It's always one guy, it's just one of [those] things you need to bear down and throw better pitches."
Wedge also liked how his bullpen fared after Laffey left. Todd, Rafael Perez (3-2) and Wood combined to allow one run on five hits in 3 1/3 innings. They struck out four and didn't walk any while keeping the Indians close.
Wood came through in the ninth. He retired pinch-hitter Brian Roberts on a slow roller that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera made a nice play on. Cesar Izturis then struck out before Felix Pie reached on an infield single.
Pie then raced all the way to third on Nolan Reimold's infield single that rolled slowly up the third-base line. But Wood ended the game by striking out Nick Markakis on a big curveball that catcher Wyatt Toregas blocked nicely, letting the Indians escape with the victory.
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.