CLEVELAND — Though it hasn’t been present often this season, the never-say-die attitude that propelled the Indians to substantial heights last year, may just have made its return.
Cleveland looked battered and beaten on a number of occasions Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field, yet the Indians kept clawing their way back until they finally secured a sweep-clinching 11-10, 13-inning victory over the first-place Tigers.
In fitting fashion for one of the wildest games in recent memory, Cleveland scored the winning run on a two-out balk that brought Asdrubal Cabrera, who was hit by a pitch, limping home to a happy bunch of teammates.
“I don’t even know where to start with that game,” said Indians right fielder David Murphy, whose two-run home run off Detroit closer Joe Nathan tied the game at 9 with one out in the ninth, giving the Indians their final lifeline before notching the dramatic win. “I don’t really know if that was a baseball game or a marathon combined with a circus.
“I loved the way we battled. We got down early. A few weeks ago, we didn’t really show a whole lot of fight. Things weren’t working out.
(The 13th inning) could have easily been the point in the game where we just weren’t able to overcome that lead. From the very first at-bat, you knew our offense was going to be up to something today.”
The series finale took five hours and 16 minutes to complete and included five lead changes, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the Indians’ signature win of the season.
“It was one of the more fun games I’ve been a part of,” manager Terry Francona said. “Obviously, you want to come out on the winning side. But either way, we took enormous steps (in the series) to getting that personality and that chemistry. All the things you talk about, that you’re dying to get to. We took enormous strides in getting there.”
The bizarre began early as the Indians, who have struggled offensively for much of the year, swatted defending Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer around for seven runs over the first three innings — five in the second.
Scherzer, who came in with a 6-1 record and 1.83 ERA, hadn’t allowed more than four runs in any of his nine starts.
“Scherzer today, he was leaving balls middle earlier in the game and we were making him pay,” Murphy said. “He obviously settled down in the later innings, but anytime you put up a seven on the reigning Cy Young winner, I think it’s a pretty good day.”
It was not a good day for Indians starter Zach McAllister, who nearly wasted all the surprising run support, allowing five runs — four in the first — over just two innings of his second straight brief and ineffective outing.
A poor effort from its starter didn’t derail Cleveland, which saw Detroit score twice in the fifth off Marc Rczepczysnki to tie the game at 7, then forge ahead with two more in the eighth off deposed closer John Axford.
Adding to the drama was the sixth-inning ejection of Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera and manager Brad Ausmus — both tossed by home plate umpire Tim Timmons for arguing check-swing strike calls.
After Alex Avila’s solo homer off Josh Tomlin in the 13th appeared to drive in the final stake, the Indians rose from the dead again in the bottom of the inning.
Mike Aviles led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Michael Bourn before Phil Coke hit Cabrera on the knee. Michael Brantley singled to score Aviles with the tying run before Murphy grounded out to leave runners on second and third for pinch hitter Yan Gomes, who was intentionally walked by Al Alburquerque to load the bases for Ryan Raburn.
With the count 1-0, Alburquerque started toward the plate and stopped, prompting Raburn to throw his arms up in celebration as the balk was called.
A visit from the red-hot, first-place Tigers, winners of three straight division titles, appeared to come at the worst of time for the last-place Indians, who had just been thoroughly outplayed in a three-game sweep by Oakland to kick off the homestand. But Cleveland stood strong in the face of its stiffest challenge of the season.
“I just think we had a bunch of guys knowing what they were capable of and kind of fed up with past performances and inconsistent performances this year,” said Murphy, who said the Indians held a team meeting prior to the series. “It was a bunch of guys who decided to put our foot down and start playing like we were capable of.”
“I thought these three games were important for us in a number of ways,” Francona said. “We did so many things well. We made some mistakes, and you’re gonna make some mistakes, but we picked each other up.
“The good part is it showed on the scoreboard. But, regardless, if we play like that, with that much passion, we’re gonna be OK.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. Baltimore
WHERE: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
PITCHERS: TBA vs. Chen (5-2, 3.69 ERA)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM