July 29, 2014

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Punch in a pinch

Shoppach’s 3-run blast caps 5-run ninth

CLEVELAND — Talk about perseverance.
The Indians had produced an admirable effort against near impenetrable Oakland ace Rich Haren on Tuesday night and had nothing to show for it. But rather than fold up the teepees and take solace in the moral victory, Cleveland took aim at the next thing in its path — the A’s bullpen.
With Haren out of the way, the Indians scored five times in the ninth inning to bully their way to an improbable 8-5 victory, winning it on a walk-off three-run home run by pinch hitter Kelly Shoppach.
“It was just a great effort to finish off the game,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge, whose team pulled back into a first-place tie with Detroit in the Central Division with its third win in four games.
The Indians were down to their last out when the ninth-inning rally began to pick up steam against former Cleveland reliever Alan Embree.
With Grady Sizemore on second base, Victor Martinez drew a four-pitch walk to bring a struggling Travis Hafner to the plate.
Hafner, who has failed to come through in the clutch on a number of occasions during his first-half slide, didn’t miss the opportunity this time around, driving the first pitch he saw from Embree into the gap in right-center to knot the game at 5.
Following an intentional walk to Jhonny Peralta, Shoppach took a ball from Embree before swinging from the heels on the next pitch and clouting it over the wall in left.
Shoppach, who obviously thought the ball was out when he connected, tossed his bat toward Oakland’s dugout before sprinting around the bases to a mob scene at home plate. The ball actually just cleared the railing above the wall.
“I hit it really, really good,” Shoppach said. “I wasn’t expecting it to land in the first row.
“Actually, that was the first time I’ve ever pinch hit in a game that mattered. I didn’t have to think. I just went up there and hit.”
“It was a strike,” said Embree of his 1-0 fastball to Shoppach. “He showed how good a strike it was by the way he hit it.”
The Indians boldly went where just two other teams had gone against Haren this season, joining the Yankees and Reds as the only clubs to generate more than two earned runs against the A’s right-hander.
Still, they trailed 4-3 when Haren left after allowing the three runs on eight hits through 6 2/3 innings.
Beating Haren has been a near insurmountable task for anyone, let alone a team such as the Indians, who have been in a collective offensive funk for much of June. Haren has not lost since his first two starts of the season (April 2 and 7, in which he allowed a total of one unearned run).
“I thought our guys battled well against him,” Wedge said. “He’s a heck of a pitcher. The guy has great stuff and he knows what he wants to do out there.”
The Indians took the early lead off Haren and held it through the first four innings.
Much of the offense off Haren was generated by Grady Sizemore, who had a hand in Cleveland’s first two runs. Sizemore led off the opening inning with a double to left, then scored the Indians’ first run on a two-out single from Jhonny Peralta. He put Cleveland in front 3-1 with a two-run homer to right — his 13th of the year.
But the Indians’ leadoff hitter almost wore the goat horns in the ninth. Straying too far off first base on Casey Blake’s foul out to left, Sizemore had to race back and slide just ahead of the throw to double him up. Had he not made it back, the game would have been over.
Cliff Lee had designs on besting Haren, limiting Oakland to just a run on three hits through the first four innings.
But Lee was done in by the long ball, allowing two of them to Jack Cust and Mark Ellis, accounting for all of Oakland’s runs off the left-hander. Ellis’ drive to left-center on the first pitch he saw from Lee tied the game at 3 in the fifth.
“I gave up two homers, but other than that, I felt like I was locating the ball pretty well,” said Lee, who allowed the three runs on six hits.
Oakland broke a 3-all tie with a run off Tom Mastny in the eighth, going up by two on a solo homer from Shannon Stewart off Rafael Betancourt — the first run allowed by Betancourt in 17 appearances.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.

TONIGHT
WHO: Cleveland vs. Oakland
TIME: 7:05
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Carmona (8-3, 3.21 ERA) vs. DiNardo (2-4, 2.35)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM

062707tribe.jpgAP / THE PLAIN DEALER
A horde of smiling faces awaits Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach at home plate after Shoppach’s pinch-hit walk-off three-run home run Tuesday beat the Athletics 8-5 at Jacobs Field. The Tribe rallied to score five runs in the ninth.