CLEVELAND – The struggling Chicago White Sox proved to be the perfect tonic for the Indians’ losing ills.
Entering the series with their Central Division rival sporting just three wins in nine games to start the season, the Indians are now back to .500 after completing a three-game sweep of the Sox via a 7-4 victory at Progressive Field on Sunday.
The Indians swept Chicago in a three-game series at Cleveland for the first time since 2003, giving the home team five wins in six games this season against a club that was expected to challenge for the division title.
An Indians offense that has struggled to score runs all season had seven on the board through the first two innings, much in thanks to, who else? Shin-Soo Choo.
After recording an RBI single that drove in Cleveland’s first run in the opening inning, Choo followed it up with his second career grand slam that broke the game open in the second.
It was the third game-changing hit in the last four games for Choo, who hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning to beat Texas on Thursday, and won the second game of the series against Chicago on Saturday with an RBI double in the same inning.
“Choo just continued to be a one-man wrecking crew,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose club is riding a season-high four-game winning streak. “It’s pretty tough to keep it up, but it shows what type of hitter he is, (left-handed pitchers), righties, it doesn’t matter.”
Choo, who began the year with just two hits in his first 18 at-bats, is hitting .350 with a team-leading four homers and 12 RBIs on the season and has been red hot as of late — 12-for-22 with all of his homers and RBIs in seven games.
The South Korean native has become a fan favorite at Progressive Field, where fans chant “Chooooooooooo,” whenever he produces something positive. It’s a sound that has been heard often on the young season.
“It’s still too early, but I like it,” said Choo, who also made a diving catch in the ninth inning, scrambled to his feet and threw home on a fly to prevent a runner from tagging. “We’ll see.”
The Indians, who have struggled mightily with runners in scoring position (.173 entering Sunday), went to work early against Sox starter Gavin Floyd, putting the first three hitters aboard and scoring three times in the opening inning.
Cleveland appeared that it would score just once on Choo’s single when Jhonny Peralta and Matt LaPorta struck out, but veteran utility man Mark Grudzielanek came through with a two-run single to right on the first pitch he saw from Floyd. It was the first RBIs for Grudzielanek since July 29, 2008.
The Indians put the first three hitters aboard again in the second with them all riding home on Choo’s slam.
The support was enough for Fausto Carmona, who continued his positive start to the season with his second win in three outings. The right-hander, who entered the start with opposing hitters batting a league-low .133 off him, allowed three runs on six hits, while striking out four and walking two through six innings.
“Fausto continued the trend of throwing the ball over the plate,” Acta said. “He gave us a good effort.”
“With a 7-0 lead, I think about getting quick outs and getting back to the dugout,” Carmona said.
He accomplished as much early, allowing a leadoff single to the first batter he faced, Juan Pierre, before retiring 12 of the next 13 hitters.
Carmona’s only shaky stint came in the fifth when he retired the first batter of the inning before allowing the next four to reach base, including former Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel, who scored Chicago’s first run with a double. The Sox scored three times in the inning.
It was the first appearance of the series for Vizquel, who started at third base and went 1-for-3. Not surprisingly, he received a warm welcome from Cleveland fans prior to his first at-bat.
Carmona, who has struggled to regain his 2007 form over the past two years, is 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA in his three starts this season.
“I’m very happy,” said Carmona of his start to the year.
The Indians employed five relievers to finish the game, including closer Chris Perez, who came on for Tony Sipp with two runners on to get the final two outs and earn his fourth save of the year. For the second straight day, Perez allowed Paul Konerko to clout a towering fly ball to left that landed foul before putting away Konerko, this time on a called third strike to end the game.
Cleveland began the homestand with two losses but won the final four games.
“We just finished a very good homestand,” Acta said. “I thought it was very important to come back and play well at home, because we’re on the road against three good teams.”
The Indians start a nine-game road trip Tuesday that takes them through Minnesota, Oakland and Los Angeles (Angels).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com.