CLEVELAND — In a season in which the Indians have been maligned for many deserved reasons, leave it to one of the few guys who has been consistent to deliver a home run that allowed the Tribe for at least one night to regain a semblance of momentum.
Michael Brantley’s line-drive home run into the right field bullpen gave the Indians a 5-4 victory over the Tigers in 10 innings at Progressive Field and ended a four-game losing streak.
Considering how the weekend series went against Oakland, in which the Tribe was outscored 30-6 and thoroughly beaten in all aspects, Brantley delivered at the right time.
"He’s been so big for us and you can see how everyone was excited for him and for us," said Terry Francona of Brantley. "We played a pretty good game and we’re going to have to in order to beat them."
Brantley, who had been hit by a pitch on the previous at-bat, worked Tigers’ reliever Al Albuquerque to a full count before getting contact on a 3-2 slider for the second walk-off homer of his career. It is also Brantley’s second homer of the year against the Tigers as he was 2 for 4 on the night with an RBI.
Considering what happened on the previous at-bat, Brantley did a nice job of flipping the bat as he got near first and had a couple fist pumps as he headed toward second. He was greeted at home plate by teammates with a water shower.
"I hit it kind of low but I was just trying to put a good swing on it," Brantley said. "Once the ball went out I didn’t remember too much until my teammates started beating on me near home plate."
With most of the focus about the Indians offense being the lack of production from the hitters who used to occupy the second and fourth spots in the order, Brantley, who is known as Dr. Smooth, has been more like Mr. Clutch.
In the past 17 games, where he has a hit in all but one, he is hitting .349 (23 of 66) with five home runs and 14 RBI. Brantley is also the sixth hardest hitter in the American League to strike out this year with only one whiff per 10.1 plate appearances.
Brantley also has a 16-game hit streak at Progressive Field, which is two off the longest for an Indians’ player since the park opened in 1994 (Kenny Lofton in 1996 and Roberto Alomar in 2000 had 18-game streaks).
The biggest surprise though is that Brantley has nine home runs, a number he didn’t reach until the 155th game last season. His next one will match his total from all of last year.
Brantley has credited "daddy strength" with his increased power numbers, but it is also his increased maturity as a hitter.
"I worked hard this off season to mature my swing and grow as a hitter. It’s also being able to look at video and scouting reports of my past at-bats against pitchers," Brantley said.
Francona thinks Brantley’s legs are stronger but also agrees that it is part of the evolution as a hitter.
"I don’t think you see him selling out to hit home runs. Balls that used to be doubles he is driving which is good to see," Francona said. "He is still the same hitter but there more home runs."
The Indians, who left 14 on base, were able to outlast the Tigers by not getting frustrated. They didn’t have an error and five players had two hits or more. Yan Gomes led the way with three while Nick Swisher had his first two-hit game since May 9. Jesus Aguilar also had his first hit and RBI in the majors.
Corey Kluber gave up three runs in seven innings but struck out eight. Cody Allen, who was on to get the save in the ninth, gave up a home run to pinch-hitter J.D. Martinez to tie the game at four but Scott Atchison retired Detroit in order in the 10th to set up Brantley’s game-winner.
Even with the Tigers arriving at the park only 2 hours, 45 minutes before first pitch due to plane troubles in Boston, they were still formidable — Miguel Cabrera had three hits and Victor Martinez homered in the second inning to tie it at one. The next two games won’t be easy with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer on the hill.
"This win was huge, especially with it being the start of a big series and rivalry. Any time you play in the division it is important," Brantley said. "Hopefully we can ride the momentum and use it the next two games."