CLEVELAND — Just when it appears the Indians are close to slipping off the life-support system and calling it a season, something gives them a defibrillator blast to the chest.
Then they’re back.
On the heels of a Central Division sweep at the hands of Chicago that left them with five losses in six games and facing an eight-game deficit, Cleveland fought back and capped a three-game sweep of Colorado on Sunday with a 6-4 win at Progressive Field.
The victory came in dramatic fashion, with leadoff man Michael Bourn hitting his first career walk-off home run against right-hander Adam Ottavino with one out in the ninth inning. It propelled the Indians out of last place and just 1½ games behind the second-place White Sox and 6½ behind first-place Detroit.
“When you start the season slow, you have to keep fighting to build it back up,” Bourn said. “We feel like we have a good team. We just have to keep going out and trying to prove that.”
Cleveland’s pitching staff certainly proved it was up to the task against one of the National League’s better offenses. Though Indians pitchers didn’t dominate the Rockies, who scored 12 runs in the series, they held hitters in check enough.
An inordinate amount of Colorado’s outs came via strikeout, as the Indians posted double-digit strikeout totals in three straight games against the same opponent for the first time in club history.
“We had to pitch well. That’s a good hitting team,” said Indians starter Josh Tomlin, who allowed two earned runs on four hits while striking out eight over 5⅔ innings. “You had to locate your pitches or you paid for it. They don’t really walk a whole lot and they don’t really strike out a whole lot.
“They’re going to put the ball in play and make you play defense. For us, it was just throwing strikes and getting ahead and trying to go deep into the game.”
Though the bullpen let down Cleveland on occasion during the series, the relief corps also answered the bell multiple times.
After Bryan Shaw allowed the tying run in the seventh inning, left-hander Marc Rzepczynski relieved him with one out and the go-ahead run on second in the eighth. He retired two straight to preserve the tie.
Right-hander Scott Atchison allowed a two-out double in the ninth, but struck out the side to allow Bourn the chance to play hero in the bottom of the inning.
Cleveland’s bullpen has been solid throughout the season despite free-agent acquisition John Axford losing the closer’s job following an ineffective spell at the beginning of May.
“I don’t think anybody worried about it,” said Atchison, who at age 38, has been one of the Indians’ most reliable relievers (2-0, 2.49 ERA in 22 games). “Everybody in the pen just wants to pitch. I don’t think anybody’s worrying about when they’re pitching or what their role’s going to be.
“We’ve shown we’ve got a pretty good staff. Starters, relievers, everybody’s doing well. That’s key.”
Third baseman Mike Aviles, who drove in four runs Saturday, started the ninth-inning rally with a line-drive single to center, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from catcher George Kottaras. Bourn took a strike before swinging hard at the next offering from Ottavino and driving it into the seats in right field.
“Bournie knocked the heck out of it,” Francona said of Bourn’s second homer of the year.
Bourn, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury since spring training, has begun to look more comfortable. So have Cleveland hitters, who are beginning to produce with runners in scoring position more often.
“I think as the weather heats up and (Bourn) gets more confident, he’s been swinging the bat really well,” Francona said. “He’s got a lot of ways to beat you.
“And we’re doing a little bit better situationally, with some sac flies and moving runners, things like that. For a while there we had nobody hot, except for (Michael) Brantley.”