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Giambi, Masterson help end Indians losing streak

The Indians are getting their money's worth and more from the Jason Giambi signing

CLEVELAND — This was the kind of night the Indians had in mind when they signed the aged veteran who had interviewed to be Colorado's manager.

Smart, veteran presence … still some pop in his bat … understanding of the game (as the Rockies showed) ... the ability to hit right-handers. So with the Indians returning home on a five-game losing streak, manager Terry Francona did not hesitate to put Jason Giambi and his 42 years in the DH spot Wednesday night.

The result: A double and a key three-run home run, as Giambi and Justin Masterson (8-3) combined to play the key roles in a 5-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Giambi is so liked and appreciated he even makes the normally placid manager smile after a game. It’s not a beaming smile, but when Francona was asked about Giambi’s tangible and intangible value to the team, the manager gave a very quick but strong expression.

“He’s got a lot of fans in our dugout,” Francona said.

Credit Francona, too, though. Entering the game Giambi was 6-for-19 with three home runs off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo.

Giambi saw six pitches in his first at-bat and struck out. On his second he saw nine and doubled. On his third, he hit a three-run home run to right field that gave the Indians a 5-1 lead — and the ability to breathe.

Giambi now is 8-for-21 against Arroyo with four home runs.

“He’s such an exhausting at-bat, to be honest with you,” Giambi said. “You really can’t look for anything off him because he throws so many pitches for strikes. It’s tough to really have a game plan. I just try to go up there and try to square it up.”

Coy? Perhaps. But Giambi won’t embarrass another player. And he clearly made Arroyo work. As Francona said, by his third at-bat Giambi had gotten himself into a good hitter’s spot.

Giambi had been scuffling this season, his average dropping to .160 in the past week. He also had been hampered by a pinched nerve in his neck that was exacerbated by cold weather.

But even while scuffling he hit a lot of balls hard and far, though not far enough. Monday, he hit a pinch-hit home run in Cincinnati to snap an 0-for-24 slide. He added the two extra-base hits on Wednesday.

The average now is .185, but Francona does not concern himself with that number.

“Never have,” he said. “That’s not why he’s here. If he can do some damage, that’s what’s important. And he’s smart enough to know that.”

Damage means this: In 65 at-bats, Giambi has four home runs and 16 RBI, an average of an RBI every four at-bats. Playing in spots, he ranks seventh on the team in home runs and RBI.

“There’s no greater feeling in the world than being able to help contribute and help the ballclub out,” Giambi said. “That’s what brings me back. Sometimes I wish I was 25, 26 years old. Unfortunately I’m not as you can tell with my baserunning tonight.”

Ahem.

Said baserunning happened in the fourth, as Giambi was on second with Carlos Santana at the plate and the count 3-and-2. Giambi took off. Santana walked and Giambi was easily thrown out at third.

While Francona said he tried to give Giambi a running start — “Put that one one me,” the manager said — Giambi said he decided to run when he saw third baseman Todd Frazier well toward second.

“I saw Frazier way over there and I overestimated my speed a little bit,” Giambi said with a smile. 

He expected Santana to hit a fastball and he wanted to be sure to score.

“Of course he walks and I get thrown out at third, and it all kind of backfired,” Giambi said. “That’s what happens when they tell ya, ‘Don’t think son; it only hurts the ballclub.’” 

The man who gave the Indians the belly flop for a base hit at first with the team way ahead — a play portrayed on pictures outside the clubhouse — now has given the Indians an attempted steal of third when he probably had no business trying.

“He was smart enough to know what’s going on and was trying to make something happen,” Masterson said. “Base hit, he may not score, so he was trying to get to third and saw something that gave him an opportunity. I would never question his thoughts in doing that.”

In the sixth, Masterson pitched out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam, and in the bottom half Giambi extended the lead to 5-1. He did not minimize the importance of the win coming off the tough week.

“When you’re playing tough games it’s hard to not live in the past and you want to concentrate on right here, right now,” he said. “That’s the message we want to send to younger players, especially after what happened last year. You don’t want it to keep snowballing and getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Which is a perfect illustration of the leadership that makes Francona smile.

“You can’t say enough about it,” Masterson said. “It’s hard for anyone to truly understand outside the clubhouse just how greatly we enjoy him.”