CLEVELAND – It isn’t often that one of the worst offensive clubs in the majors is also one of the best in clutch situations. But that has been the Indians’ modus operandi this season.
Scoring runs as a whole has been a struggle for Cleveland all year long. Scoring them with two outs? Not so much.
Such was the case again Tuesday night at Progressive Field, with the Indians scoring four two-out runs to propel them to a 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays – Cleveland’s third straight victory.
Of the Indians’ 316 runs this season, nearly half of them (139) have come with two outs.
“Two-out hits are big,” said Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner, who scored once and drove in a run in the situation Tuesday. “The defense is one out away from getting out of the inning. It’s still the same amount of runs but it seems like it takes some of the air out of the other team.”
The only Indians run that didn’t come with two outs was a one-out solo home run from Matt LaPorta, but it still loomed large in the outcome.
Toronto had cut into a 4-0 deficit with two runs in the sixth when LaPorta clouted a one-out solo shot an estimated 422 feet to left-center that gave Cleveland a run back in the bottom of the inning.
“The most important thing was LaPorta’s home run,” said Indians manager Manny Acta. “That got us right back. He hit a ball where not too many right-handed hitters hit it out of the park. That was a shot.”
LaPorta, brought back from Triple-A Columbus after the Indians traded slugger Russell Branyan, is expected to play first base on a regular basis over the remainder of the season.
“The pressure is off but you still have to go out there and produce,” LaPorta said. “I think I’m up to it.”
For the most part, Indians starter Fausto Carmona was up to it as well, allowing three earned runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings.
The right-hander didn’t allow a run and only two hits through the first five innings before surrendering four runs over the next two – one unearned run in the seventh when right fielder Shin-Soo Choo dropped a fly ball with two outs after Carmona had departed.
“I thought Fausto threw the ball well,” Acta said. “He gave us a chance.”
Carmona’s sinker was on target for much of his outing, especially through the first five innings, with just one of his outs leaving the infield over the span. He fielded four ground balls back to the mound, starting an inning-ending double play in the fourth.
“When you keep the ball down, you see what happens. They hit ground balls,” Carmona said. “I have to be ready for anything that comes to me.”
The Indians got another positive effort from the bullpen, which preserved a one-run lead over the final two innings against one of the American League leaders in home runs and slugging percentage.
Rafael Perez, who has turned things around after a miserable start to the season, retired the side in order in the eighth inning before turning it over to closer Kerry Wood.
Wood, who has also struggled for much of the year, converted his third save in as many days, striking out two of the three hitters he faced in the ninth inning. It appears the veteran right-hander has found a groove.
“Everybody wants to downplay spring training but it’s very important and he missed all of it,” Acta said of Wood, who sustained a strained lat muscle shortly into the exhibition season and began the year on the disabled list. “Hopefully he continues to do this for us. The most deflating thing is to lose a game that you’re leading after eight innings.”
The Indians arrived home a deflated bunch after losing seven of nine games on an interleague road trip. They have begun a seven-game homestand with two wins.
“It’s important to play well and get out of that rut,” Hafner said. “I think we’ve done that.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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