July 2, 2016

Partly cloudy

Francisco fabuloso in win

CLEVELAND — As timing goes, Ben Francisco was perfect Friday night at Jacobs Field. With the game tied in the ninth inning of his first career big league start, Francisco launched a towering solo home run to left field that gave the Indians a 2-1 victory over the Devil Rays.

The memorable blast came after Francisco had already collected his first career hit and it gave the Indians a victory that returned them to the top of the Central Division standings, a half-game ahead of defending American League champion Detroit.

“I had two strikes, so I was just looking to put the ball in play,” Francisco said of the 2-2 offering from Devil Rays reliever Shawn Camp that he deposited a few rows up in the bleachers to lead off the ninth. “He made a mistake. I knew it was gone. I couldn’t believe it. It was something out of a TV show.”

Reality TV, that is.

Following his big shot, Francisco, a 25-year-old outfielder who was called up on June 20 to replace an injured David Dellucci, stepped out of the dugout to a rousing curtain call from the 34,557 fans in attendance. He then took the obligatory pie in the face from Trot Nixon during his postgame television interview.

“It had to be some kind of a thrill for the young man,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge, whose team won for the seventh time in nine games at Jacobs Field, once again owning the majors’ best home record at 28-12. “You want to have an opportunity to do something in the ninth inning, but obviously, you don’t expect something like that.”

The Indians needed Francisco’s heroics thanks to another anemic offensive performance that has surfaced on a number of occasions as of late.

The numbers said Tampa Bay starter Edwin Jackson would be easy prey for Cleveland, with the right-hander entering his 15th start of the season toting a 1-8 record and hefty 7.39 ERA.

It didn’t play out that way.

Jackson allowed just a run on six hits, while striking out six batters through six innings. Though he surrendered hits in each of his first five innings, Jackson permitted just one runner past second base, striking out the side in his final inning of work.

The Indians, who own the second-most strikeouts in the AL (587 in 79 games), struck out 10 times on the night – eight of their last 10 outs of the game.

Fortunately for the Indians, their starter, Jake Westbrook, and his bullpen relief, kept them in the game long enough for Francisco to pick them all up.

Westbrook was good again in his second start since leaving the disabled list, where he spent over a month with an abdominal strain.

Shaking off early location problems, Westbrook went to his change-up at the end of the opening inning and stuck with it. It produced favorable results with the right-hander allowing just a run on five hits, while striking out seven through seven innings.

“They were swinging at them. You stick with what works,” Westbrook said of the change-up. “It was as good as it’s been for a long time.”

Following four shaky minor league rehabilitation outings, Westbrook has been better than expected in his first two starts off the injured list. Though he has failed to record a win in either outing, he has surrendered just four runs through 14 innings.

“For me, it’s kind of a matter of getting back into my rhythm,” said Westbrook, who is 1-3 with a 6.80 ERA in eight starts.

Steady setup man Rafael Betancourt pitched a scoreless eighth inning before turning it over to Joe Borowski in the ninth. Borowski pitched an uneventful final inning, allowing a base hit to Ty Wigginton, but erasing the threat when he picked off pinch runner Josh Wilson to end the inning.

Borowski got the win, his first since Sept. 2 of last year at Milwaukee.

The Indians hit the comeback trail again, reversing a 1-0 deficit for their major league-leading 24th come-from-behind victory.

“These guys have always had a tremendous amount of fight,” Wedge said. “Whether we’re going good or bad, no matter what the score is, these guys are going to finish it out.”

And this year, they’re finishing teams off.