While the big boys like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Tigers are busy battling for playoff position, your Cleveland Indians continued to toil in relative obscurity while playing their best ball of the season. Last night’s series opener in Baltimore was not considered “must see TV” unless you have a sickness for your baseball team the way I do. After all, this was two of the worst teams in the American League doing battle. However, the game certainly didn’t lack for drama.
Did my eyes deceive me, or did I really watch Andy Marte hit a two-out, two-run home run in the ninth inning with his team trailing by one? I didn’t dream that did I? That’s right, the man we all left for dead this past winter is enjoying a renaissance season which continued last night with his big blast off of Orioles closer Jim Johnson, giving the Indians a 5-4 win at Camden Yards. “Over the plate, that was a mistake,” said the Tribe first baseman. “I know I hit it good, but I didn’t think it was going to go out. Enough to score the run from first, but better — a better result.”
That runner on first was rookie Matt LaPorta, who hit a 3-2 pitch up the middle to keep the game alive, giving Marte a chance to do his thing. “Our two kids really battled,” Manager Eric Wedge said. “LaPorta did a great job shooting that single up the middle. And so did Andy.” And how. Marte jumped ahead 3-0 before eventually taking Johnson’s 3-2 fastball over the wall in left. He finished the night with two hits – a triple being the other – two runs, and two huge RBI’s.
Kerry Wood pitched the ninth for his 17th save.
I know Marte was tearing up AAA and that shouldn’t matter since he had been there during three different seasons, but he is still just 25 years old and no longer carries the burden of franchise savior (that distinction currently belongs to LaPorta). He had 30 teams pass on him during the offseason, a humbling experience for the one time “can’t miss ” third base prospect. Now he can just relax and play loose, let the game come to him. Over the last week, he has done just that. In seven games, Marte is hitting .385 (10-26) with two homers and seven RBI’s. He’s also done a solid job at first base.
His AAA partner in crime, LaPorta, has hit safely in all eight games (10-30) since his arrival.
The Indians took a 1-0 lead on a Grady Sizemore leadoff shot, the 21st of his career. They jumped ahead again 2-1 after Sizemore’s ground-out scored Marte. Starter Aaron Laffey, pitching in front of family and friends in his home state, couldn’t get out of the sixth inning as the Orioles jumped ahead 3-2 on a two out RBI double by Luke Scott. Overall, the lefty was effective yet again. “He had good stuff tonight,” Wedge said. “He walked a couple of people, but he pitched well.”
Rookie phenom Matt Wieters added Oriole insurance by jacking a solo blast off of Jess Todd in the seventh. In the eighth, the Tribe battled back thanks to a two-out RBI double from Shin-Soo Choo, scoring Sizemore who was everywhere on this muggy night in Baltimore. Grady was 3-5 raising his average to .250 for the first time since May 2nd.
Rafael Perez was the winning pitcher, dealing an inning and two thirds of scoreless relief in front of Wood.
This night, however, was all about Marte. That ninth inning blast was the biggest hit of his under-achieving career. “He had to throw me a ball on the plate because I got Grady behind me,” Marte said. “As soon as I get 3-1, I know he’s going to throw something over the plate.”
Tonight the Tribe looks to keep the momentum going with Fausto Carmona on the hill.
(phot by Gail Burton/AP)