Fighting to stay alive in the American League wild-card race, Cleveland opened a four-game series against the last-place Astros with a dramatic extra-inning victory, turning back Houston 2-1.
The most unlikely of heroes — September call-up Matt Carson — won it for the Indians with a two-out, bases-loaded walk-off single off reliever Rhiner Cruz. Carson sent a hard grounder past a diving Jose Altuve at second base to score Yan Gomes and touch off the celebration.
“That was kind of the pinnacle for me at this point in my career,” said the 32-year-old Carson, who has spent the majority of his 11 professional seasons in the minor leagues. “To do it for a playoff team like we have right now, in a win that we needed, it was tops for me.
“It’s the greatest feeling. I’ve done it plenty of times with other guys. To be the guy getting mobbed, it feels good.”
With the win, the Indians remained a half game out of a wild-card berth, with Texas and Tampa Bay tied for the AL’s extra playoff spots. Baltimore is two games back, while the Royals are three and the Yankees are 3½.
Offense was at a minimum for the majority of the night, with starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel each logging seven innings and allowing just a run apiece.
Jimenez (12-9, 3.39 ERA) gave the Indians every opportunity to win, as his sparkling second half continued in earnest.
The right-hander, who won his fourth straight start, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 11 straight outings since the All-Star break, posting a 1.83 ERA over 10 starts entering the night.
Jimenez struck out nine after entering his 30th start with 10 or more strikeouts in three of his previous four outings.
In his first 205 career games, Jimenez never had an outing with at least nine strikeouts and no walks, but he’s accomplished that three times over his last five starts.
“The way Ubaldo pitched for us today, it’s kind of a shame, you want to give the guy a win for something like that,” said Nick Swisher, who matched a career high with four hits to extend his hitting streak to nine games. “But for him to go out and do the job that he did … every time he takes the hill we have the utmost confidence in him.”
“We’re leaning on him and he’s enjoying it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Jimenez, who has taken over the ace role from an injured Justin Masterson.
It appeared the Indians would start fast when they scored the game’s first run in the opening inning on an RBI single from slumping Jason Kipnis, who snapped an 0-for-11 skid.
Houston countered quickly, loading the bases with the aid of two bloop hits, to tie the game at 1 on a sacrifice fly in the second.
Neither team generated many scoring opportunities until the ninth inning, when Houston loaded the bases against Cleveland closer Chris Perez, who allowed a one-out double to Ohio University product Marc Krauss before hitting a batter and walking another to load the bases.
Perez, who has walked the tightrope for much of the season, struck out Matt Dominguez and Brett Wallace to thwart the scoring chance.
That set the stage for Carson’s heroics in the 11th.
Carson swung and missed at the first pitch he saw from Cruz before connecting on the second.
“We’ll take any win any way we can, but it’s kind of nice,” Francona said of Carson coming through. “They’re pretty fond of him. He went to Triple-A the whole year. It’s kind of rewarding to see a young kid work like that and get a hit.”
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