CLEVELAND — Jason Giambi has helped the Indians as a veteran presence and with a key hit from time to time this season, but perhaps his biggest contribution of the year arrived Tuesday night at Progressive Field.
With the Indians trailing by a run in a pivotal game for their postseason hopes, Giambi rode to the rescue in the ninth inning, launching a two-run, two-out pinch-hit home run for a 5-4 walk-off victory over the White Sox.
Giambi, who stepped to the plate batting just .177, connected on the third pitch he saw from Chicago reliever Addison Reed, blasting it well into the first section of seats in right field for his ninth homer.
As soon as he made contact, Giambi dropped the bat. He was mobbed by endearing teammates after circling the bases.
“I think I have a man crush on G,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said of Giambi, whose 10th career walk-off homer gave his team its fifth straight win and 10th in 12 games. “That was pretty awesome. That’s a lot of emotions in a one-inning span. That would have been a really tough loss.
“The fact that we won was so big and then how we won makes it special.”
The win kept Cleveland in ownership of the American League’s second wild-card spot, one game ahead of Texas. Tampa Bay maintained a one-game lead over the Indians for the first wild-card spot.
At 42, Giambi is the oldest player in the majors to hit a walk-off homer — and he’s done it twice this season.
“Wow. It’s stuff you dream about,” Giambi said. “Coming down the stretch, trying to get a playoff berth. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. I’m speechless. I really am.”
No one was more thankful for Giambi’s heroics than Indians closer Chris Perez, who entered the ninth inning with a one-run lead but surrendered two solo homers to put the White Sox in front 4-3.
“I just thought he left a couple pitches that were over the middle of the plate,” Francona said of Perez, who blew his fifth save in 30 chances. “When you’re pitching in the ninth and you give up runs, it’s more glaring. I didn’t think his stuff was down.
“There’s no time to hang your head right now. You’ve got to keep fighting, and we did.”
Francona said he will not alter his ninth-inning approach, despite Perez allowing seven homers in save situations — the most by any big league closer this season.
“We’re not going to switch gears with five games left,” he said.
Perez’s implosion ruined another quality outing from Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who allowed two runs on five hits, while striking out seven over 6⅓ innings.
Jimenez has not allowed more than three runs in any of his 12 starts since the All-Star break, leading the AL with a 1.86 ERA over the span.
“I thought the second time through the order he wasn’t quite as crisp as he’s been, but to his credit, he’s been a good pitcher,” Francona said. “There’s not a whole lot to show on the scoreboard when he leaves the game.”
It was a tense and emotional ride to victory for the Indians, who are fighting to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
He was asked if the final five games would follow suit.
“If I could tell you, it would spoil the fun,” Francona said. “That’s why I say you enjoy the ride. The journey, it’s fun. One minute, it’s gut-wrenching, the next minute, it’s everybody mobbing G. It’s why this is so gratifying, for moments like that.”
“We’ve picked each other up all year long and we haven’t quit,” Giambi said. “We’ve been kicking and fighting and scratching the whole way, and we’re gonna keep kicking and fighting and scratching.”
Cleveland center field Michael Bourn left the game after jamming his right wrist on a slide into second base in the fifth inning. Francona said Bourn was checked after the game and there was no structural damage.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Chicago White Sox
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Salazar (1-3, 3.09 ERA) vs. Axelrod (4-10, 5.72)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM
MAGIC NUMBER: 5