04/22/07 7:40 PM ET
Garko's homer caps Tribe's big rally
First baseman's blast ignites Indians' four-run ninth
By Dawn Klemish / MLB.com
Entering Sunday, Cleveland was hitting just .150 (16-for-107) over its last 12 games with runners in scoring position. But the Indians were perfect in all three attempts Sunday, including a game-winning, ninth-inning homer by Ryan Garko, en route to stealing a series win with a 6-4 victory over the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.
"It all started with [Jake] Westbrook, he threw a good ball game," manager Eric Wedge said. "We had some people step up late for us, both defensively and, obviously, offensively."
The Indians would turn out to need all the offense they could muster, because for the second time in as many days they were plagued by multiple defensive miscues. To make matters worse, Rays starter James Shields was on his mark, striking out a club record-tying 12 Indians hitters in eight innings while allowing only two hits.
Back-to-back defensive mistakes in the bottom of the fourth proved costly for Cleveland. First, in an attempt to catch Rocco Baldelli stealing second, catcher Victor Martinez launched the ball over shortstop Jhonny Peralta's head and well into the outfield, allowing Baldelli to take third base.
The errant throw was the second from a Cleveland catcher in the past two games, after Kelly Shoppach winged a ball into the outfield on Saturday in an effort to cut down B.J. Upton's steal attempt. That, too, shared the same result -- a run scored.
"It's been funny," Wedge said. "We've been battling these elements, and then you get inside and there's no weather and I think you get a little bit stronger. You've got to fight through [and] do a little bit more physically. In the cool weather, you get inside and I think sometimes you just overcompensate for it, and you're a little bit stronger. I think we've seen a little bit of that."
On the ensuing play, starter Jake Westbrook induced a Brendan Harris strikeout. But the pitch was in the dirt, forcing Martinez to have to tag Harris for the out. Martinez lunged forward, thought he'd made the tag, and then stood guarding home against Baldelli as Harris jogged safely to first, where it was ruled he was never tagged.
Baldelli scored on the following ground out.
"I couldn't tell, it was close either way," Wedge said. "You can't assume that the umpire saw you tag. You have to know that he recognized it and called him out. Unless you really thump him good, you need to know the umpire knows you got him."
It didn't stop there. Cleveland was trailing by one in the eighth inning when reliever Tom Mastny's wild pitch allowed Jonny Gomes to score and push the Rays' lead to 4-2.
Thankfully, though, the Indians had Garko to lift them with his three-run homer in the ninth.
Martinez had driven in Grady Sizemore earlier in the inning to pull Cleveland within one. Garko took it as his cue to save the day, and took a 2-2 pitch from Brian Stokes and parked it over the wall in left field for the game-winner.
"It felt good to finally come through with guys on base in a clutch spot, personally and as a team," Garko said. "No one's really been doing anything. It's been frustrating out there, a little bit, not swinging the way we can, and the way we will. It was exciting."
Westbrook was impressive in his seven-plus innings. He scattered just four hits, and the last one was a bunt single that Westbrook and first baseman Garko followed down the line that rolled to a halt just fair. Westbrook allowed three earned runs, one of them coming on a solo homer by Carlos Pena in the sixth inning. Having settled down after his wild pitch, Mastny earned his first career win after working two-thirds of an inning. The game also held a special significance for Wedge, who moved up the Indians' all-time managerial wins list into a tie with Lee Fohl for seventh-most in club history. It was Wedge's 327th victory.
Cleveland hitters struggled mightily against Shields, who had fanned 10 Indians after just 5 1/3 innings. He allowed both of his hits in the second inning.
The first was a two-out Casey Blake double to center field, immediately followed by Peralta's second home run of the season to put the Indians up, 2-0.
Dawn Klemish is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.