CLEVELAND — Ubaldo Jimenez set an early tone Tuesday night that no matter how hard the Indians tried they couldn’t erase.
With Jimenez offering up another brief but brilliant outing, Cleveland overcame offensive inefficiencies and a hiccup from closer Chris Perez to outlast Baltimore 4-3 and even the series between wild-card contenders at a game apiece.
Nothing has come easy for the Indians, who won for just the second time in eight games and had to sweat out a near implosion from Perez in the ninth inning.
Perez, who appeared in court on misdemeanor drug charges earlier in the day, allowed hits to the first two batters he faced before Nate McLouth launched a three-run home run to right field. But the right-hander regrouped and retired the next three hitters in order to preserve the win.
It made a winner of Jimenez, who tossed six shutout innings, allowing just four hits and walking two to improve to 10-9 with a 3.79 ERA over 27 starts.
“He was good. He was aggressive and worked quick,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of the right-hander, who retired 10 straight over a span from the second to the fifth innings. “This was the third start in a row where it kind of looks like he’s gotten a second wind. His fastball’s got life on it.
“He goes out there and gives us six shutout innings against a lineup like that. That’s exciting to see.”
“It was all about my fastball,” Jimenez said. “My fastball has a lot of life on it right now.”
Though Jimenez hasn’t been much of an innings eater this season, he has been effective, resembling a much different pitcher than he has during his tenure with the Indians.
Mechanical adjustments developed this offseason with new pitching coach Mickey Callaway have appeared to pay off for Jimenez, who has lasted seven innings or more just four times, but has allowed three or fewer runs in 22 starts and eight straight outings.
“You always have to give the player credit, especially a veteran guy that’s willing to make changes,” Francona said. “I think Mickey deserves a ton of credit for developing a relationship with Ubaldo.”
“He’s the main reason I’m where I’m at right now,” Jimenez said of Callaway. “It was all about being 100 percent with my mechanics. I’ve been working hard the last two years to get back to where I was before and I’m getting there.”
It wasn’t a breakout performance for Cleveland’s offense, which has struggled mightily over the past month, but it was just enough.
The Indians scored once on three hits over the first five innings against Orioles starter Chris Tillman before plating three in the sixth — two on a two-out double from catcher Yan Gomes. Sacrifice flies from Asdrubal Cabrera scored Cleveland’s other two runs.
“We did a lot of nice things,” Francona said. “We moved runners over, got some big hits ... that’s how we have to play.”
The win came in front of just 9,962 fans, which accounted for the smallest September crowd ever at Jacobs/Progressive Field — and the smallest since 1992 overall.
Despite staying in playoff contention for much of the season, the Indians have ranked near the bottom of the American League in attendance.
“Of course, we notice,” Jimenez said of the small crowds. “It’s definitely not the same when we have a big crowd. What can we do?”
Cleveland entered the night 3½ games out in the race for the American League’s final wild-card spot. The Orioles entered the night two games back.
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