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07/28/09 3:10 AM ET
Martinez's clutch homer stuns Angels
Tribe uses four-run ninth to pick up fifth straight victory
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Victor Martinez was hitless going into his ninth-inning at-bat, and the Angels had one of the game's top closers, Brian Fuentes, on the mound. Somehow, though, Martinez had a positive premonition. "Something's going to happen," he told teammate Jhonny Peralta. Something happened, all right. Martinez smacked a three-run homer, and Peralta followed with a solo shot as the Tribe mounted a comeback against Fuentes and beat the Angels, 8-6, in the series opener at Angel Stadium. It was the Indians' fifth straight victory -- their longest such streak of the season -- and it comes at a time when they are losing teammates almost as frequently as they are winning games. "In our mind," Martinez said, "it doesn't matter where we are in the standings. We never quit, and we play hard." Alas, the Indians, who cranked out 20 hits in this victory, would have to play out of their minds to make up for the damage left behind by the season's first half. And Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt and Ryan Garko have already been sent packing, with more deals still possible before Friday's Trade Deadline. Martinez, the subject of many a trade rumor in these waning days before the deadline, knows as well as anyone that he could be the next to go. But that's not his focus. "I don't think about that," he said. "It's tough, but you've got to turn the page every day and see what happens." With the negative vibes of the trading season looming over their heads, the Indians just so happened to start playing their best baseball of the season on this road trip. And in this game, they showed the type of last at-bat grit that was all too often reserved for their opponent in the first half. "We've been on the other side of a few of those," said bench coach Jeff Datz, who filled in as manager for the night with Eric Wedge serving a one-game suspension. The Indians were in need of some late-inning magic because of the damage left behind by starter Carl Pavano, who has been laboring as his first full season in five years wears on. Pavano has a 6.97 ERA over his last eight starts, and opponents have hit .306 against him in that span. In this start, as was the case in Pavano's previous start in Toronto, the long ball bit him. Pavano gave up four homers -- all of them solo shots, and three of them coming consecutively in the second inning. Juan Rivera, Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli went deep off Pavano in succession to give the Angels a 3-2 lead and make Pavano the first Tribe pitcher to give up three straight homers since Dave Burba was tagged by the Royals' Jermaine Dye, Raul Ibanez and Carlos Beltran in order on June 29, 2001. Has Pavano ever given up three straight homers before? "Unfortunately, I think I have," he said. "[When that happens] you need to keep being aggressive and throw strikes. Your approach doesn't change just because you gave up a home run." Pavano, though, has now given up eight home runs over his last two starts, and he admitted he has some work to do behind the scenes. In the meantime, Pavano's teammates did plenty of work to rescue him on this night. They went to work early against Angels starter Joe Saunders, the ninth straight left-handed starter they've faced. And they also turned in some strong defensive work, most notably center fielder Ben Francisco's diving catch of a Reggie Willits liner to end the sixth. But leaping left fielder Chris Gimenez was unable to haul in Morales' solo homer earlier in the sixth. The ball appeared to strike his left wrist, just below his glove. That blast, along with Bobby Abreu's RBI single in the fifth, appeared to be enough to send the Indians to defeat, particularly when the Tribe bats stranded two runners in scoring position in the seventh and runners on the corners in the eighth. Martinez, however, was right. Something was set to happen in the ninth. The Indians jumped all over Fuentes, who had converted more saves (30) than anyone in the Majors. Jamey Carroll and Shin-Soo Choo ripped consecutive singles to open the inning, and Martinez worked the count to 2-0. "In my mind, I was going to take a chance," Martinez said. "I was looking for the fastball. I got one and put a good swing on the ball." Off the bat, it wasn't a given that the ball would get out. But it kept carrying and snuck over the wall in left, into the Angels' bullpen. "It barely went out," Martinez said, "but it still counts." Peralta's followup blast was a no-doubt-about-it shot to left-center field that gave closer Kerry Wood, who would notch his 14th save, a dose of insurance. The homer capped a three-RBI night for Peralta and another strong effort from an Indians offense that has averaged 7.4 runs per game on this trip. "We've been getting good pitches to hit," Martinez said, "and we haven't been missing them at all."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.