CLEVELAND — There were plenty of reasons to celebrate Sunday at Progressive Field, but the biggest party was most definitely reserved for Indians outfielder David Murphy.
On his daughter Madison’s birthday, Murphy loomed large in all phases of a 4-3 sweep-clinching win over the Rangers, providing his biggest present with a two-run, game-tying home run to force extra innings in the ninth.
Murphy’s big blast turned what appeared to be certain defeat into improbable victory when Michael Brantley hit a walk-off homer off Ohio native Phil Klein to lead off the 12th inning.
“The best part about it, obviously it was great to tie up the game, but today was my daughter’s seventh birthday,” said Murphy, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and made a pair of acrobatic catches in right field. “It was funny, after I hit the double off the wall my first at-bat … I love a double anytime, but I was kind of mad at myself because I wanted to hit her a home run on her birthday. It was fun to be able to do that for her. It makes it special.”
The win, which came against Murphy’s former teammates, was a significant one for the Indians.
Third-place Cleveland has won seven of its last 10 and still trails first-place Detroit by 6½ games in the Central Division standings, but the Indians pulled within three games in the American League wild-card race.
The dramatic win didn’t seem possible, when the Rangers jumped on an erratic Trevor Bauer for three runs over the first two innings, and Cleveland hitters struggled against Yu Darvish for the majority of the All-Star’s seven-inning outing.
But a key at-bat in the ninth from Chris Dickerson, who pinch hit for Nick Swisher after the designated hitter left the game with an injury after striking out for the third time, set the stage for heroics from Murphy and Brantley.
Down 0-2 in the count, Dickerson worked a one-out walk off Neftali Feliz and Murphy followed by hitting the first pitch he saw over the wall in right-center.
“There’s something to be said for just ‘keep playing,’” manager Terry Francona said. “There wasn’t a real lot to yell about during the game, but our pitching kept it close enough, and then Murph hits the ball out of the ballpark and we get to keep playing. We had good chances after that and didn’t cash in, and then Brantley comes up and delivers.”
Fittingly, on the weekend Jim Thome’s statue was erected at Progressive Field, Brantley became the first Cleveland player to hit two extra-inning walk-off homers in a season since Thome hit three in 2001.
Bauer found his command after the second inning, shutting down Texas for the remainder of his career-high 7⅓ inning outing. Early issues have plagued Bauer for much of his competitive career.
“I’ve literally tried everything over the years,” he said. “It’s been high school, college, pro ball, that’s always how it is for me. So if you guys have any suggestions, let me know. It’s not for lack of trying. For whatever reason, the beginning is different. Being in the game situation, it takes me a little bit to settle in.
“I don’t know. It’s weird. I wish I could fix it. I’ll find a way eventually, I guess.”
The Indians haven’t played as well as they did last year, but they’ve shown the same resiliency despite injuries, mediocre play and the recent trades of two of their top players — Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera.
“It’s awesome,” Bauer said. “This team doesn’t quit. Even if we don’t cap it off, we always seem to put together something in the later innings and make it close.”
Francona said Swisher suffered a minor strain of his right wrist. He said the designated hitter was examined and the wrist will be looked at again today.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Cincinnati
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Kluber (11-6, 2.61 ERA) vs. Simon (12-6, 2.84)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM