April 23, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
36°F

Indians 5, Pirates 2 (11 innings): Phelps’ walk-off wins it for Tribe

CLEVELAND — The Indians had to sit through nearly a two-hour rain delay and play 11 innings Sunday at Progressive Field, but no one in the Cleveland clubhouse had complaints with the end result.

An all-around banner day for the Indians was capped in dramatic fashion by the unlikeliest of heroes in rookie second baseman Cord Phelps, who hit a three-run walk-off home run with one out in the 11th to power Cleveland to a 5-2 victory.

“I guess it was worth the wait to win a game like that,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose team won for the fifth time in seven games to remain atop the Central Division standings with a one-game lead over Detroit. “I think Cord deserved to win the game, because he hit the ball hard all day. He was the right guy at the plate in that situation.”

It didn’t appear that way when Phelps, a rookie who was called up June 8 in hopes that he would provide an offensive boost in place of struggling veteran Orlando Cabrera, strode to the plate with just two hits in his first 20 big league at-bats.

But after taking a ball from Pirates reliever Tim Wood, Phelps shocked the stadium by sending a drive deep to right-center to touch off a celebration on the field and among the 30,023 fans in attendance.

“That was incredible for my first home run to be a walk-off,” said Phelps, who hit Cleveland’s third walk-off homer of the season. “I think that’s like my first walk-off hit ever.

“I knew I hit it well. I knew it was going over the outfielder’s head for sure, but I haven’t played in this park a whole lot.”

The Indians were on the mark in nearly every facet of the game in the series finale.

While the offense continued to struggle, scoring just twice on seven hits over 10 innings, Cleveland did get contributions from two of its biggest slump-ridden players — Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana.

The pair of key cogs in the lineup combined to go 5-for-8, scoring three runs and driving in one. Choo had base hits in each of his last three trips to the plate, while Santana hit his ninth homer of the season — a solo shot that scored the first of the Indians’ two runs in a game-tying second inning.

Both Santana and Choo were on base for Phelps’ homer, Choo singling and stealing second before Santana was intentionally walked.

Neither team scored after the second inning until the Indians won it in the 11th.

Cleveland starter Justin Masterson was gone well before the fantastic finish, lasting just five innings, but keeping the Indians in the game by allowing two runs on seven hits.

“It really wasn’t about me today,” said Masterson, who is winless (0-5) in his last 10 starts despite posting a 3.41 ERA over the span. “I kept it close, but the bullpen did a tremendous job. Our guys hung in there and we got the win.”

Cleveland’s bullpen, which has been top-notch all year, rode to the rescue again. Starting with Chad Durbin, six relievers combined to blank the Pirates on just four hits over the final six innings. Left-hander Tony Sipp got the win by getting the final two outs in the 11th.

“How about that bullpen?” Acta said. “Every single one of them just went out there and kept us in the game. It was just a fantastic performance by those guys.”

The same can be said for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who went hitless in five at-bats, but made the play of the season in the field in the 10th inning.

Cabrera ventured into the outfield grass to make a bare-handed snare on a hard one-hopper from Brandon Wood, turning and making a strong throw from deep in the hole to record the second out.

“Half of the dugout was saying greatest player ever,” Acta said. “It was unbelievable, and the throw was even better. He’s played tremendous baseball for us. That’s the first time I’ve seen something like that.”

“We reminded him that he did have a glove,” Masterson said. “That’s what he’s been doing. That’s why he’s one of the best, if not the best, shortstop in the AL.”

Interleague play has begun well for the Indians, who have swept both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in three-game series at Progressive Field. They are the only unbeaten team in the majors in interleague play.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.