CLEVELAND -- Before there were cheers for Jason Giambi, there were boos for Chris Perez.
Perez entered in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday at Progressive Field with the Indians holding a one-run lead on the White Sox. His third pitch was driven over the right-field fence by Dayan Viciedo. Three batters later, after a pair of strikeouts, Alejandro De Aza smacked a solo shot to right-center, putting Chicago on top late in a game the Tribe needed to win.
Perez was charged with his fifth blown save of the season. Afterward, Indians manager Terry Francona was asked whether he'd bring Perez in to close if needed on Wednesday.
"Oh yeah. Oh yeah," Francona said. "We're not going to shift gears with [five] games left."
Fortunately for Perez and the Indians, Michael Brantley got on in the bottom of the ninth, and Giambi, batting as a pinch-hitter, crushed a walk-off home run to right field off reliever Addison Reed for a dramatic 5-4 victory. The Indians kept pace with Tampa Bay and maintained their lead on Texas in the American League Wild Card standings. Both of those clubs won Tuesday as well.
"I made him give me a hug," Giambi said, referring to Perez. "He was a little down. He was a little down and I gave him a big hug. He needed it. There's not a worse feeling, I think, than being in that situation. I've been up there striking out in a big situation, so I know the feeling. He's going to be a huge part of us all the way down the stretch. If we get an opportunity to play in the playoffs, we need him. So I'm just glad that he can wipe this away and start over tomorrow."
It's not often that Francona removes Perez in the middle of an inning, but there the manager was on Tuesday, heading to the mound after his closer followed De Aza's homer by yielding a single to Alexei Ramirez. With lefties coming to the plate and the lead already lost, Francona didn't want to see Perez's pitch count go up any further.
As he walked off with his head bowed, Perez was a target for the Indians fans he has criticized in the past. From being found guilty of misdemeanor drug abuse off the field and his various struggles on it, Perez has been the most polarizing player on the Indians this season.
Perez was nowhere to be found in the clubhouse following Tuesday's game. He hasn't granted interviews to local reporters for months.
Perez is 25-for-30 in save opportunities with a 3.71 ERA. He has 54 strikeouts, 21 walks and 10 home runs allowed in 53 1/3 innings.
"He's important," second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "He's important for the reason you saw tonight. It would've been nice for him to lock it down and close out a 4-3 game, but you know what? Welcome to baseball. Stuff's going to happen like that. It's not always going to go as numbers suggest. We picked him up tonight and we're hoping he's going to pick us up down the road."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.