CLEVELAND — Veteran slugger Jason Giambi said he gave Chris Perez a hug after the beleaguered closer blew his fifth save in Tuesday night’s 5-4 comeback win over the White Sox.
Perez could certainly use some tender loving care right about now.
Cleveland’s fiery right-hander has been a lightning rod for controversy for the second straight season, but unlike his second consecutive All-Star season in 2012, Perez has been anything but reliable.
Perez, who has allowed a major jeague-high seven home runs in save situations, has a 5-3 record, 3.71 ERA and 25 saves in 53 appearances. He’s been especially bad as of late, posting a 5.95 ERA with opponents batting .321 off him over his last 20 games.
“When he makes a mistake out over the plate, it’s gotten hit,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think sometimes you need that ball to be fouled off. It goes in cycles.”
Perez has failed in key moments this season but none bigger than his save opportunity Tuesday night.
With the Indians clinging to a one-game lead in the race for the American League’s second wild-card spot, Perez allowed two solo homers to the White Sox, who took the lead in the top of the ninth.
He was booed loudly as he exited the game and was not on the field for the postgame celebration after Giambi’s walk-off home run.
“He was a little down,” Giambi said. “There’s not a worse feeling, I think, being in that situation. I’ve been up there striking out in a big situation, so I know the feeling.
“He’s going to be a huge part of us going down the stretch. I’m just glad he can wipe this away and start over (Wednesday).”
Though Perez has offered little relief as of late, Francona said he has no plans to turn to someone else in the ninth inning.
“If there’s ever a situation where I think we could do better, I would certainly do that, but you can’t just be reactionary as a manager or you’d have turmoil in the clubhouse,” he said. “I actually think the last month he’s thrown the ball pretty well. The consistency part hasn’t been quite what we hoped for. I think certainly we’re hoping for more on that side of it.”
The Big G
The legend of Giambi grew larger with his second walk-off home run of the season Tuesday night, but the veteran’s contributions have gone well beyond the field of play.
“G has become so important to so many people in our organization,” Francona said. “It’s a blessing that we signed him. He has been as instrumental in us moving forward, and probably more so than anybody. That’s a lot of praise for a guy that’s got 190 at-bats.
“People want to listen to G. They gravitate towards him. If they don’t they’re crazy. I’ve been around some pretty special people, but I’ve never been around anybody that has this presence.”
Center fielder Michael Bourn was available to pinch run Wednesday but did not start after jamming his right wrist on a slide in the fifth inning Tuesday night.
There is no structural damage and Bourn doesn’t view the injury as serious, but it comes at an inopportune time.
“I know where we’re at in the standings. I get all that,” Francona said. “I just think we’re best served by letting him get some treatment.”
With the Indians facing left-handers the next two games, Bourn might not start again until Saturday.
Francona would not commit to holding back Ubaldo Jimenez to start should the Indians qualify for the AL wild-card game next Wednesday. The right-hander is scheduled to start in the regular-season finale at Minnesota on Sunday.
“We’re not there. We need to win (Wednesday),” Francona said. “That’s the mentality we’ve had all along.”
The Indians finish the regular season in Minnesota, where they begin a four-game series at Target Field tonight at 8:10.
Zach McAllister (9-9, 3.88 ERA) opens the set, opposing LHP Andrew Albers (2-4, 3.98), while Corey Kluber (10-5, 3.61) starts for Cleveland on Friday
(8:10 p.m) against LHP Pedro Hernandez (3-2, 6.05).
Scott Kazmir (9-4, 4.14) goes for the Indians on Saturday (1:05 p.m.) against RHP Cole De Vries (0-1, 11.70), while Jimenez (12-9, 3.38) is slated to pitch the series finale Sunday (2:10 p.m) against LHP Scott Diamond (6-12, 5.54).
Cleveland is 9-6 against the Twins this year, which includes a 3-3 record at Target Field.
The Indians entered Wednesday with an AL-best 29-17 record in one-run games, which ranked second in the majors behind Arizona (33-20).
* Cleveland’s 11 walk-off wins by nine players ranked second in the AL (Tampa Bay 13) and fifth in the majors through Tuesday.