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08/20/08 11:39 PM ET
Gutierrez steals the show in Tribe win
Indians win third straight after outfielder's three-run blast
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Franklin Gutierrez told himself he could make the stellar diving catch in right field that ended Wednesday night's game before the ball was even hit. His three-run home run an inning earlier was more of a pleasant surprise. Whether his contributions were planned or unplanned, Gutierrez's spectacular ending sparked the Indians to an 8-5 victory over the Royals at Progressive Field. And if you think the 25-year-old Gutierrez needed a performance like this in a season of long and well-documented struggles, you have as much insight as he had foresight. "At this moment, I think it's good for me," Gutierrez said. "I think I'm making adjustments and helping the team." The Indians needed all the help they could get late in a ballgame in which starter Zach Jackson not only hit Mitch Maier with a fastball that caused three broken bones in the center fielder's face, but also surrendered what had been a 3-1 Tribe lead. Save for the run he had given up in the first, Jackson, one of four players acquired in last month's CC Sabathia swap, was pitching well in his second start for the Tribe. But his pitches got away from him in the fifth. With two on and none out, Maier squared to bunt on an 0-1 pitch, and Jackson's delivery was a cutter to the right cheek. Maier was officially down for the count, a victim, it would later come to be discovered at Lutheran Hospital, of an orbital floor fracture, a broken cheekbone and a zygomatic fracture. As for Jackson, it was an honest mistake. "It was a cutter that slipped out of my hand," he said. "What are you going to do? Nobody's perfect. I was trying to go down and away with a cutter, but it just got away from me. It backed up." With the bases now loaded with none out, Jackson had a problem that didn't exactly challenge that of Maier, but was nonetheless unenviable. When he left a changeup over the middle to the hot-hitting Mike Aviles, the trouble got the best of him. Aviles ripped it to the gap in left-center field for a bases-clearing double that put the Royals ahead, 4-3. The Indians' hopes were further dulled when catcher Kelly Shoppach's attempt to nab Aviles in a stolen-base attempt at third resulted in an errant throw to left field, allowing Aviles to score an insurance run. Now, the Indians were in a bind. Not only were they trailing by a pair of runs, but Royals starter Gil Meche was dealing. After those early homers, he used his five-pitch mix to retire 17 Tribe batters in a row, and he struck out all but one member of the Indians' lineup -- Ryan Garko -- at some point. Gutierrez went 0-for-3 off him, striking out and grounding into a double play. "He was as good as it gets," manager Eric Wedge said of Meche. This was as bad as it gets for the Indians, considering they came into this game with a 2-48 mark in games they trail after seven innings. Yet in the eighth, the Indians, no strangers to bullpen collapses this season, were on the right side of that occurrence. Shoppach's second solo shot of the night off reliever Ramon Ramirez pulled the Tribe within a run. After pinch-hitter Shin-Soo Choo walked and Royals closer Joakim Soria came in to walk Grady Sizemore, Gutierrez teed off on a high fastball for a three-run shot to left to put the Tribe up for good, 7-5. Gutierrez's homer was his third in the last 15 games, in which he's batting .346 with 10 RBIs. Those aren't numbers that drastically alter his season's bottom line -- a .234 average, .382 slugging percentage and .278 on-base percentage -- but they're certainly better late than never. "He's had some big hits for us lately, and none bigger than that one," Wedge said of the homer. "He really stepped up for us." When he stepped up to face Soria, Gutierrez was looking for a pitch away that he could drive to the opposite field. "Normally, that guy throws away," Gutierrez said. "He changed and started throwing inside, and I hit it good." Good enough to propel the ball 401 feet out to left. In the ninth, when newly installed closer Jensen Lewis was one out away from his fourth straight save, Gutierrez saw Alex Gordon step to the plate and predicted something that actually happened -- a diving catch to cap the game. "Before [Gordon] hit the ball," Gutierrez said, "I was thinking about that. It immediately happened. Positive thinking. That's what it's all about." For one night, at least, Gutierrez had plenty to feel positive about.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.