CLEVELAND — Nick Swisher didn’t have a whole lot of bros in the Progressive Field crowd when he strutted to the plate Thursday afternoon with the game on the line in the 10th inning.
When the at-bat of the Indians’ $15-million man was complete, however, he had plenty of friends.
Booed for going hitless and striking out three times in four previous at-bats, Swisher atoned for his offensive shortcomings — at least for a day — by clouting a two-out walk-off grand slam that lifted Cleveland to a 5-3 win over the Angels.
With the wind blowing in substantially, Swisher connected on a 1-2 pitch from right-hander Ernesto Frieri and sent it just over the right-field wall. It made an unlikely hero of Swisher in an improbable win for the Indians, who saw Los Angeles take a 3-1 lead in the top of the inning.
“I love being in those spots, ’cause there’s one of two things that’s going to happen,” Swisher said. “You’re either going to get a hit and be the hero or you’re going to be a goat, one of the two. It was nice to come out on top being a hero tonight.
“We needed something like this, and I’m just happy to be part of it.”
Swisher may have needed it more than his team.
Batting just .200 in 55 games, Swisher is mired in a 3-for-25 slump since leaving the disabled list, striking out 10 times in five games. The silver lining is that two of Swisher’s hits are game-winning homers.
“He hasn’t gotten a lot of hits, but it seems like the hits he’s got have been huge,” manager Terry Francona said of Swisher’s post-DL production. “As long as he’s healthy, which he is, he’ll get it going. He started out this way last year, and you look up at the end of the year … his average might be a little lower because of the slow start, but he’ll impact us offensively.”
“I’m starting to get in the rhythm of the game a little bit more,” said Swisher, who missed just under two weeks with a hyperextended left knee. “Every day that I come back and play, I feel like I get more into the game.”
Despite struggling with command early — walk, hit batter, wild pitch in the first two innings — Justin Masterson got it together and finished strong. He allowed a run on four hits, while striking out five over seven innings.
“It got the job done, that’s my take on it,” Masterson said. “It just kind of worked. We were making adjustments the whole game. I did feel stronger, especially in that seventh inning.”
The game appeared lost for the Indians when Albert Pujols hit through the shift to deliver a two-out, two-run single on a 3-2 pitch off right-hander Scott Atchison that gave the Angels a two-run advantage.
But the Indians came right back in the bottom of the 10th. Michael Bourn drew a leadoff walk before recently-promoted Cam Bedrosian struck out Asdrubal Cabrera. Jason Kipnis advanced Bourn to third on a double before Bedrosian walked Carlos Santana to load the bases and was replaced by Frieri.
Swisher kept Cleveland’s winning ways going at Progressive Field with his fifth homer of the year.
The Indians lead the majors with a 23-12 record at home, as they prepare to host three-time Central Division champion Detroit in a three-game series that begins tonight.
“I don’t know what the science is behind it, but it’s sports in general, it’s always that home-field advantage,” Masterson said. “We just seem to like it that much more (at home). We feel a little extra comfortable.”
“We feel extremely comfortable here at home. Obviously, our record shows that,” Swisher said. “We’ve got Detroit coming in, obviously a huge series for us, and we’ll be ready.”
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WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Kluber (6-4, 3.35 ERA) vs. Porcello (8-4, 4.03)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM