Indians start 2nd half with winning rally in 9th
CLEVELAND — It didn’t take long for the rally pie to make an appearance in the second half.
The Indians’ symbol of success carried by veteran Trot Nixon for much of the first half of the season found Ryan Garko’s face Friday night after Garko’s single in his team’s first post-All-Star break game scored the winning run in the ninth inning of a 5-4 victory over the Royals.
It was a composite of a first half that saw the Indians produce a plethora of late-inning wins in one of their most fruitful opening halves in years.
“I think it comes from our manager,” said Garko, who was tackled by Josh Barfield and mobbed by teammates before Nixon stuffed a pie in his face during the postgame television interview. “Eric (Wedge) has that never-say-die attitude. He never lets us quit. There’s no panic in our dugout.
“I think it’s just a situation where we’re coming up with big hits.”
That was certainly the situation in the series opener against the last-place Royals, who have played the Indians tough this season, winning three of seven games.
After Cleveland closer Joe Borowski blew a save by allowing the tying run in the ninth, Indians hitters went right back to work in the bottom of the inning against Kansas City closer Zack Greinke.
Travis Hafner, who struggled to produce the big hit through the first half of the year, started things with a double to right before being replaced by pinch runner Mike Rouse.
The Royals walked Jhonny Peralta intentionally before Garko hit a hard grounder on Greinke’s first pitch that hopped off the mound and into center field to score Rouse and touch off the celebration.
“Hafner gave us a chance to do it, and Garko finished it from there,” said Wedge. “I think it says a lot about our guys. No matter what the situation, these guys play it all the way to the end.”
The Indians won for the 11th time in their last 13 games at Jacobs Field, improving their big league-best record at home to 32-12.
The victory had the potential to propel the Indians back into first place in the Central Division standings, with Detroit, who entered the night with a half-game lead, playing at Seattle.
Borowski’s blown save — his third of the season and first since May 13 at Oakland – prevented starter Jake Westbrook from getting his first win since leaving the disabled list and his second of the year in 10 starts.
Westbrook struggled with control early, issuing four of his five walks within the first three innings, when the Royals scored all of their runs off the right-hander. His lone win came in his fifth start on April 27 against Baltimore.
“It took me three innings to kind of figure some things out,” said Westbrook, who allowed just one hit over his final three innings, retiring the side in order in the fourth and fifth innings. “I was getting behind in the count.”
The statistics say Westbrook is a second-half pitcher. Only Johan Santana (28) owns more wins after the All-Star break from 2004-07 than Westbrook, who has 25.
Cleveland’s hit-or-miss offense generated plenty of opportunities, but cashed in on just a few.
The Indians left 10 runners on base, seven through the first five innings against starter Odalis Perez, who lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits.
Cleveland scored single runs in four of the first five innings, with Victor Martinez driving in two of them in two at-bats. His ground-out in the third inning made it 3-2 and his double in the fifth put Cleveland in front 4-3, accounting for his 70th RBI in 80 games.
Because the Indians trailed 3-2 after three innings, the win accounted for their major league-leading 27th comeback victory, equaling their total from last season. Cleveland has won 14 games in its last at-bat with eight coming at Jacobs Field.
“Anytime you win a game it’s fun,” Westbrook said. “But the way we’ve been doing it the past couple weeks at Jacobs Field has been dramatic.
“We’re very confident.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Kansas City
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Sabathia (12-3, 3.58) vs. Meche (5-6, 3.54)
TV/RADIO: STO; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
Ryan Garko is mobbed by teammates, including Josh Barfield (right), after hitting the winning single Friday in the ninth inning at Jacobs Field.