September 2, 2014

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Indians 3, White Sox 2: Choo propels Tribe again

CLEVELAND – Shin-Soo Choo did it again.

The man with the penchant for late-game heroics produced more Saturday at Progressive Field, with his double in the eighth inning driving in the winning run in a 3-2 victory over the White Sox.

Choo has all but carried the Indians’ sagging offense this season as the only regular in the lineup with a batting average above .300, but he’s been especially effective with the game on the line late.

Of Choo’s seven RBIs, four have come from the seventh inning on. He won the game for the Indians with a three-run home run in the eighth inning Thursday that prevented a sweep by the Rangers.

Choo thrived in late-game situations last year – seventh-highest batting average in the American League (.328) from the seventh inning on – but can the Indians expect to get the big hit from him every night?

“Why not?” joked Choo after the game.

Choo, who is batting .324 on the season, is 10-for-19 over his last six games with three doubles, three homers and his entire RBI count.

“He’s just having very good at-bats since we left Detroit (on April 11),” said manager Manny Acta. “He’s been a bit more patient.

“That was a huge at-bat.”

But it wasn’t the only one.

The Indians trailed by a run in the eighth before Asdrubal Cabrera tied it with a one-out homer off Sox starter Jake Peavy, who was relieved by tough left-hander Matt Thornton with Grady Sizemore coming to the plate.

Sizemore greeted Thornton with a single and Choo drove him in to complete another comeback win. The Indians have rallied from behind in all five of their wins this year.

It was Choo’s second RBI double of the game, only this one counted.

After producing what he thought was a two-base hit in the opening inning, Choo was ruled out after the White Sox appealed that he missed first base while rounding the bag.

It took the Indians out of a potential big first inning, but Choo was vindicated by replays that showed he did, indeed, touch the base.

“I did,” Choo said. “I felt my foot touch it. If I don’t feel that, I’m not going to second base. It was a long fielder’s choice, I guess.”

Choo said when he got to second on the double in the eighth that umpire Jerry Layne joked that he didn’t touch first again.

“I’m not much for instant replay,” Acta said. “I don’t want to take the human element out of it, but sometimes I understand why people push for it.”

Neither starting pitcher, Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook or Peavy, figured in the decision, though both produced positive outings.

Peavy allowed two runs on four hits over 7 1/3 innings, while Westbrook surrendered two runs on five hits over seven innings.

Westbrook was especially effective early, shutting out Chicago on four hits over the first five innings. The right-hander allowed a run in each of his last two innings, as the Sox forged ahead in the seventh.

“I was a little bit more in the zone early on,” said Westbrook, who produced his finest outing in three starts this season. “I got a little erratic at the end but it was good to be part of a win. Hopefully I can continue to get better and be more consistent the whole game through.”

“He pitched the way he is, like a veteran,” Acta said. “He didn’t have his best stuff but he battled and gave us a tremendous outing.”

Westbrook looked like the pitcher he was before undergoing Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the majority of the past two seasons. He said he has returned to lowering his arm angle, something he didn’t do in his first two outings after producing positive results with the approach in 2006-07.

“We can tell that he’s feeling good now,” Acta said. “He’s dropping down. That’s something that tells us he’s over the hump, physically.”

Beleaguered closer Chris Perez also got over a hump of sorts, pitching a clean ninth inning for his third save after disastrous outings in his two previous appearances.

Perez said he and Indians coaches noticed a flaw in his delivery that he corrected before taking the mound Saturday. Still, his ninth-inning performance was not without an anxious moment.

Facing the heart of Chicago’s order, Perez retired the first batter, Carlos Quentin, before Paul Konerko hit a towering flyball to left that landed just foul.

“Obviously that pitch to Konerko was right down the heart of the plate,” said Perez, who retired Konerko on a fly to center before striking out Andruw Jones to end the game. “You don’t want to do that to him in the ninth inning. I was just begging for it to hook (foul).”

It did and the Indians had a season-high three-game winning streak.

“This is definitely something we can feed off of,” Sizemore said. “We’re getting great pitching. We just need to pick it up offensively and make it a little easier on those guys.”

Cleveland, which goes for the sweep today (1:05 p.m.), has beaten the White Sox in four of five games this season.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.