September 2, 2014

Medina
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Utility player to the rescue: Brent Lillibridge’s all-around big night leads Indians past Red Sox

CLEVELAND — Now we know why the Indians traded for Brent Lillibridge.

Mocked for making Lillibridge their major acquisition at the trading deadline, Cleveland got the last laugh Saturday night, with Lillibridge, an unheralded utility man, playing a major role in a 5-2 victory over the Red Sox at Progressive Field.

Lillibridge matched a career-high with three hits — including his first home run since 2011 — and drove in a pair of runs to help burn his ex-teammates from Boston.

Lillibridge, who joined the Indians on July 24, spent around a month with the Red Sox after being acquired in a trade for first baseman Kevin Youkilis.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but this is where I am supposed to be,” Lillibridge said. “Just getting the opportunity, that’s the biggest thing. In a way, I feel like I’m in a tryout. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”

Lillibridge started at third base and also assisted in the field, making a strong relay throw to the plate to cut down Dustin Pedroia in the fourth inning, before diving to tag out Jacoby Ellsbury trying to stretch a triple in the sixth.

Coming a triple shy of the cycle, Lillibridge scored twice, once in the seventh on another successful squeeze bunt attempt from manager Manny Acta that put the Indians in front 4-2.

“Lillibridge had a great night,” Acta said. “We drove guys in and Lillibridge was big with that.”

But no one was bigger for the Indians than starting pitcher Zach McAllister.

The right-hander, who has been arguably the most consistent member of the rotation since being recalled for his third stint with Cleveland at the end of June, allowed two runs on three hits over a career-high eight innings.

As efficient as he has been all season, McAllister struck out four and didn’t walk a batter, improving to 5-4 with a 3.46 ERA over 13 starts.

“Zach McAllister was the man tonight,” Acta said. “He was just tremendous. He pounded the strike zone the whole night and just gave us a huge lift.”

It was the first victory since July 16 for McAllister, who was coming off back-to-back subpar outings and allowed nine runs (two earned) in 1⅔ innings his last time out.

“It was definitely something I needed,” McAllister said of the positive outing. “I thought I had a pretty good mix.”

McAllister hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs in any of his starts this season.
Liilibridge’s homer to lead off the third inning provided the first hit and run of the night, with Boston scoring its only two runs on Adrian Gonzalez’s double that put the Red Sox in front 2-1 in the fourth.

Lillibridge’s legend grew larger in the fifth when his base hit off Boston starter Franklin Morales tied the game. The Indians went ahead for good on Michael Brantley’s sacrifice fly in the sixth before Acta executed the squeeze.

With Lillibridge on third, catcher Lou Marson dropped down the bunt on a 1-0 curveball from Mark Melancon. Melancon made the play, but couldn’t flip the ball in time to get a sliding Lillibridge at the plate.

Acta, who has been successful in six of his seven squeeze attempts (2-for-2 this season) during his tenure in Cleveland, began concocting the idea with Lillibridge on second and Marson on deck.

“It’s something you start planning way before it happens,” he said.

With just their third win in 10 games, the Indians trimmed their deficit to single digits, trailing the first-place White Sox by nine games.

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

TODAY

• WHO: Cleveland vs. Boston
• TIME: 1:05 p.m.
• WHERE: Progressive Field
• PITCHERS: Kluber (0-0, 6.10 ERA) vs. Lester (5-10, 5.36)
• TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM