07/03/07 12:54 AM ET
Tribe sweep aside Rays
Team wins fifth straight heading into Central showdown
By David Briggs / MLB.com
And what better night to encapsulate a year in which fortune has so often fallen the Indians' way than their 10-2 victory over the Devil Rays Monday night at Jacobs Field.
Fausto Carmona ricocheted back from his worst outing of the year to his usually brilliant form. Emerging reliever Rafael Perez skirted trouble in a bases loaded, no-out mess in the seventh. Rookie outfielder Ben Francisco delivered once more. And the Tribe exploded in an eighth inning that saw just as many Indians hits as Devil Rays errors -- three -- translate into seven runs.
"We were," manager Eric Wedge said, "on the good side of things tonight."
It was the Indians' fifth straight win as they reached the 50-win mark six weeks earlier than a year ago.
And what's more, fans have begun to take notice of a Tribe club whose sweep of Tampa Bay pushed their home record to 31-12, tops in baseball. On a cool weeknight, a Jacobs Field-record walk-up throng of 8,754 were part of the 34,372 in attendance.
The fans -- and what else is new? -- certainly got quite the show.
And it started with Carmona, who came back from the toughest start of his career to allow just two runs -- one earned -- on four hits while striking out eight over six innings.
"Like with anything else, you have to pick yourself up afterward," Wedge said of Carmona's eight-run implosion last week. "And that's just another indicator of how tough he is."
Said Carmona: "I thought a lot about the last start. I learned from the mistakes and tried to make sure that wouldn't happen again today."
They didn't. The 23-year-old right-hander, his mid 90s sinker typically devastating, carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning and stonewalled the Rays through six.
When Carmona faltered in the seventh, allowing the first five hitters to reach base, another man stepped up.
Perez, whose season's trajectory has seen him go from a starter at Triple-A Buffalo to the big club's long man to the Tribe's third option out of the 'pen, then came in to deliver what was perhaps the game's most critical sequence.
With two Tampa Bay runs already home and the Indians now holding onto a one-run lead, Wedge was simply looking for a little damage control. Hold the Rays to a couple runs, he thought, and the bats would have a shot to bring the Tribe back later.
And then it happened.
In Perez's finest hour wearing a Tribe uniform, the left-hander struck out Josh Wilson to lead off the inning before inducing a chopper from Akinori Iwamura that seemed destined to spring just over his 6-foot-3 frame.
"It was a reaction play," Perez said. "I probably wasn't going to catch it, but you got to make an attempt."
Good thing he did. Peddling backward, Perez made a leaping grab before darting the ball home for the force out.
"Maybe I should play basketball," Perez said with a laugh.
Brendan Harris then grounded out to third and a standing ovation accompanied Perez's walk back to the third-base dugout. Job well done, young man, the manager thought.
"That's way beyond the call of duty," he said.
And on this night of improbabilities, the same could be said for Francisco.
The rookie outfielder, recalled from Buffalo last month, figured to get a few shots as a pinch-hitter, maybe a spot start here and there when he was recalled from the Minors last month.
As Francisco said, "You're just out there trying to not to hurt the team. You can't expect to have immediate success."
But now, he's making life hard on Wedge. For how can you keep this guy, the same guy who saw virtually no action his first week after being called up, out of the lineup?
The owner of a game-winning homer in his first career start last week was at it again Monday, going 3-for-3 with a fourth-inning homer and three RBIs.
On most any other night, Francisco would have been the game's star. But of course, this was not any other night. And a wild seven-run eighth inning filled with errors, walks and a Grady Sizemore grand slam confirmed this.
Then again, how many humdrum nights have there been for the Tribe this year? When Wedge says the Tribe "was on the good side of things," it's hardly a new refrain.
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.