But to struggle and win is fun, so the Tribe was all smiles after slipping past the Astros 5-4 on four home runs with nobody on base, a critical play by Drew Stubbs and an outing by Ubaldo Jimenez that was bearable to watch.
The Indians were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, so Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Mark Reynolds and Stubbs took it upon themselves to make sure the offense delivered when there were no runners on second or third.
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“We’re just trying to be one run better, so I’ll take it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, when asked if the solo blasts were cause for frustration.
Gomes hit his second homer of the year in the second inning, Santana went deep for the fourth time to lead off the fifth, Stubbs hit his first home run of the season in the sixth, and Reynolds produced the game-winner with two outs in the seventh off former Tribe reliever Hector Ambriz.
It was the seventh home run of the season for Reynolds.
His fly ball to left struck a concrete archway above the yellow home run line, but the Astros weren’t sure the ball hadn’t hit below the marker. Consequently, umpires reviewed the play — it took only about 45 seconds — to ensure that the homer was legal.
“I asked the guys in the dugout if it cleared the line, and they said it did,” Reynolds said. “Some guys saw it on TV.”
Gomes tripled to the deepest part of the outfield to lead off the fourth inning, but nobody was able to push him the last 90 feet to the plate. It was that kind of a day for the offense, which seemed on the verge of busting loose only to fall short.
“I feel like once it starts to turn around, it can turn quickly,” Stubbs said. “Like last night.”
The Tribe came into Saturday night’s game having scored 11 runs in five games, all losses.
In his last two starts, Jimenez gave up 14 runs in six innings, and when he walked leadoff batter Jose Altuve in the first and yielded a home run to Fernando Martinez, it looked like another disaster in the making.
The third batter of the inning, Jason Castro, followed with a single, so who knows what fate might have befallen Jimenez had Stubbs not intervened.
When Brandon Laird hit a drive that looked like a certain extra-base hit, Castro took off from first. But Stubbs was able to run the ball down at the track in center and make a quick relay to Jason Kipnis, who threw to Santana at first to complete an improbable double play.
“Stubbs saved the game,” Francona said. “In my opinion, he gave us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Added Jimenez: “That catch was unbelievable. It gave me a break.”
Jimenez repaid Stubbs by retiring 14 batters in a row through the fifth. But in the sixth, he gave up a leadoff single to Marwin Gonzalez and a triple to Altuve and was out of the game.
“Ubaldo was pretty good, more good than not good,” Francona said. “He threw pretty well and his pitch count (65) was not up, but with the guys who were coming up, I thought we should go to the bullpen.”
Jimenez was charged with four runs (Altuve scored on a sacrifice fly off Nick Hagadone), four hits and a walk.
“I threw strikes and stayed ahead in the count,” said Jimenez, explaining his effectiveness.
Did he feel pressure because of his recent bad outings?
“You never feel happy when you pitch like that,” he said. “But I knew it was something I could get fixed. I worked a little more, and everything was good.”
Chris Perez pitched the ninth and got his first save since Opening Day, but he gave up a leadoff double, hit a batter and yielded an intentional walk before retiring the final two hitters.
“Pitches were going all over the place,” Perez said, referring to his erratic command. “When I gave up a double to the first guy, I knew it was going to be a battle after that. I was throwing sliders to try and get (Chris) Carter to hit into a double play and got a strikeout instead (for the second out).
“It was a battle. I just wanted to get the job done. I didn’t care how.”
- WHO: Cleveland vs. Chicago White Sox
- TIME: 8:10
- WHERE: U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago
- PITCHERS: Masterson (3-1, 1.67 ERA) vs. Axelrod (0-1, 4.70)
- TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM