CLEVELAND — C.C. Sabathia got outpitched by rookie Brian Bannister and the Indians trailed for most of the night against the hapless Kansas City Royals.
None of it mattered. Not this year.
Playing the part of a potential Central Division champion to perfection Friday night at Jacobs Field, the Indians shook off the negatives to produce one big positive in a 5-4 victory Friday night at Jacobs Field.
Cleveland won it on a walk-off solo home run from Casey Blake, who led off the ninth by driving the first pitch he saw from former Indians reliever David Riske over the wall in left field to touch off a celebration that included the third baseman taking the obligatory pie in the face.
“It’s a good feeling. It’s been a long time since that’s happened to me,” said Blake, whose homer was just his second since the All-Star break and his first since Aug. 1 — a string of 37 games and 144 at-bats. “Things were looking bleak and we came back and won that game. It was pretty cool.”
The victory — Cleveland’s 16th in the last 20 games — ensured that their
5½-game lead in the Central Division would remain intact, with the Indians knocking their magic number down a peg to 10.
Kansas City lost for the eighth time in nine games to fall to 5-8 against Cleveland this year.
The Royals could place no blame on Bannister.
Though Sabathia (17-7, 3.21) took the mound as the American League Cy Young Award candidate, it was the rookie right-hander who pitched like one, allowing just a run on two hits through six innings.
After allowing a run on two hits in the opening inning, Bannister retired 15 of the last 17 batters he faced, allowing just a pair of walks.
“He pitched a good ballgame but I didn’t think we did a particularly good job,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge.
For all but one of his seven innings of work, Sabathia was his usual dominant self, striking out a career-high 13 batters. The total was the most by an Indians pitcher since Bartolo Colon fanned 13 on Sept. 18, 2000, in a one-hitter at Yankee Stadium.
All of Kansas City’s runs came in the fifth inning, and seemingly out of nowhere, after Sabathia had allowed just one hit through the first four innings. They all came after Sabathia had struck out Esteban German for the second out of the inning.
“They just put some good swings together,” said Sabathia, who had not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his 10 previous outings. “You’ve got to give them credit.”
Sabathia returned to finish strong, shutting Kansas City out on one hit, while striking out four over his final two innings of work. His 227 innings, which leads the majors, is the most by an Indians pitcher since Charles Nagy worked the same amount in 1997.
“C.C. pitched another very good ballgame,” Wedge said. “That one inning hurt us, but the way he came back is all you need to know about him.”
The same can be said about Cleveland’s offense, which rode to the rescue just in time to get Sabathia off the hook for another hard-luck defeat.
Trailing 4-1 and with Bannister in the dugout, the Indians made their move against the Royals’ bullpen.
A two-run homer from Franklin Gutierrez brought Cleveland to within a run of KC’s lead in the seventh, with Victor Martinez’s solo shot to right off Riske, which just got over the wall, tying it at 4.
Martinez connected on the first pitch he saw from Riske to lead off the inning, as did Blake.
“You know what David Riske features, a fastball,” Blake said. “You know he’s going to come right after you.”
Though he was on the losing end at the time, Sabathia said he had a feeling the Indians were on the verge of making a comeback.
“The guys really picked me up tonight,” Sabathia said. “I kind of felt it in the dugout. I knew we were going to win this game. I just had a feeling that someone was going to get a big hit, and then Gootie hits the homer.”
The Cy Young talk has gotten louder over the last month for Sabathia, who is holding the company line that he’s preached all season.
“I can’t think about (the Cy Young),” he said. “We’re in a pennant race right now. I’m just worried about getting the title. I want that more than any individual award. I want to pitch in the postseason.”
The Indians are closer than they have ever been to realizing their goal of winning the division and qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2001.
“We’ve got to stay focused,” Blake said. “We can’t be looking around too much.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Kansas City
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Carmona (16-8, 3.20 ERA) vs. Greinke (6-5, 3.99)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
MAGIC NUMBER: 10