Choo's homer heroics lift Tribe
Starter Huff throws complete game to help snap five-game skid
CLEVELAND -- As the ball sailed high and deep to right-center field Thursday afternoon, Shin-Soo Choo egged it on."Go! Go! Go!" Choo said in his head. And when it just barely crept over, bouncing off the top of the wall and into the stands, Choo had, at that moment, his No. 1 fan in the Indians' dugout. "I fist-pumped so hard," said left-hander David Huff, "that I almost fell over." The Indians' losing streak is over, thanks to Choo's heroic hit and Huff's complete-game gem in a 3-2 victory over the Rangers in the series finale at Progressive Field. Once again, a Tribe team that entered the action in a five-game skid looked destined for defeat, with Huff on track to be penalized severely for the one bad pitch he made in the fourth inning. But one bad pitch by Rangers starter Matt Harrison changed all that, as Choo pummeled it out for the game-winning three-run blast. Manager Manny Acta had said the previous night that there was no "magic trick" to stop a losing streak. He corrected himself after this win. "That's the magic trick," he said. "When you throw a well-pitched ballgame and get a timely hit like the one by Choo, that's the trick." Thanks to some sleight of hand on the part of Huff and Rangers starter Matt Harrison, this game was as quick as your basic card trick. It lasted just two hours, three minutes. "[Pitching coach Tim Belcher] kind of got on me, because my routine was kind of long," Huff said. "So I'm trying to hurry it up this year." Huff is also trying to build off his 11 wins as a rookie last year and show more consistency at this level. He's off to a terrific start. A Jhonny Peralta fielding error marred Huff's otherwise splendid 2010 debut in Detroit last week. And in this start, he went the distance, allowing just a pair of runs on four hits, with a walk and four strikeouts. It was the first complete game of his career. What's made Huff, whose bid to win a job in Spring Training camp went down to the final week, so effective in the early going? "Just attacking these guys," said Huff, who has worked with veteran catcher Mike Redmond. "Pitching in to them. Not letting them get extended. A lot of these guys have long swings and like to get the ball over the plate. So if I can keep it in there, I can be pretty successful." Huff was successful throughout this start, with the notable exception of the fourth. It was the one inning that nearly did him in. Perfect through three, Huff gave up a leadoff single to Elvis Andrus. Then he left a 1-0 fastball over the plate for Michael Young, who took it deep to right for the two-run shot that put the Rangers up 2-0. "I kind of fell behind Michael," Huff said. "He likes to go the other way, and I threw the fastball too much over the plate. He took it for a ride." And for the longest time -- "longest" being a relative term, of course, given the game's brisk pace -- it appeared the Rangers would ride Young's homer to victory. The Tribe bats, after all, were barren against Harrison. They contributed just four hits through seven innings, and six men were left stranded. But in the eighth, everything changed when the Rangers were surprisingly benevolent in the field. A Young throwing error allowed leadoff man Asdrubal Cabrera to reach. And Cabrera was safe at second on a Grady Sizemore fielder's choice because of another error, as Andrus dropped the ball at shortstop. Up came Choo, and he was looking for a slider. He got one on a 1-0 pitch from Harrison, and it was hanging over the middle of the plate. Choo belted it up and out to right-center. "I wasn't trying to hit a home run," Choo said. "Every time I do, something bad happens. I just tried to hit the ball hard." After a slow and strikeout-prone start to the season, Choo has hit the ball hard all week. "Choo has been a thorn in our side all series," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He finally got a big one. A real big one." And this one came not only with Huff's fist pump but also with the now-inevitable chant of "Choooo!" from a crowd that was even smaller than the announced attendance of 10,198 indicates. What was also inevitable, at least in Acta's mind, was Huff going out to pitch the ninth. Huff had thrown 96 pitches by that point, and Acta had no doubt he could finish the job and spare the use of what has been an erratic Tribe bullpen. "It was his game," Acta said. Huff had one hiccup in the ninth, allowing a one-out single to Young. But he got Josh Hamilton to ground out to first and Vladimir Guerrero to line out to second to end the game. Huff was then greeted with a celebratory shaving cream pie to the face while doing a postgame interview with SportsTime Ohio. "I was not expecting that," Huff said. "I got it all up my nose and my eyes. I'm probably still wearing some of it." Mostly, though, he was wearing a smile, as much for Choo's heroics as his own. "I think I was probably more pumped up about Choo hitting the bomb," he said, "than I was about finishing up the game."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.