CLEVELAND — A downer turned into a triumph because a bunt turned into a swing.
And that swing in the bottom of the 11th inning Friday night turned into a Ryan Raburn three-run home run that gave the Indians an 11-8 win over the Texas Rangers.
This one ended with glee. But it could have been glum as the Indians went to extra innings after squandering a 7-1 lead — they hadn’t blown a six-run lead in a loss since April of 2010.
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“Let’s just be flat blunt, dog, if we’d have lost that game, man that would have hurt,” first baseman Nick Swisher said. “That would have hurt a lot. But we didn’t. So let’s not even go down that road.”
Manager Terry Francona merely said the Indians took a “circuitous route” to the result he wanted, an impressive and accurate word for the occasion.
And if the win was circuitous, so was Raburn’s at-bat, which took place following no-out singles in the 11th by Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana.
Francona sent Raburn to the plate to bunt, even though earlier this season he had called off a bunt off after watching Raburn make one less-than-inspiring attempt.
This time, the Indians told Raburn to bunt on the first two pitches, but to try to slash the ball through a hole if the Rangers moved the shortstop to third.
Texas did, and Raburn took the first pitch for a ball.
On the second, he showed bunt, saw the shortstop moving and pulled the bat back to slash a hit. But he couldn’t get around on Jason Frasor’s 94-mph fastball.
After seeing Texas moving its infielders so aggressively, Francona gave Raburn the green light to swing away.
“I just felt like that was a really good situation to let a guy swing,” Francona said. “You got infielders moving and we’re ahead in the count. Anything but a double play, and you’ve got (Michael) Brantley hitting behind him. It seemed like we were better off rather than try to force the issue, especially when they’re getting so aggressive. Just let him swing.”
Raburn took ball two on another 94-mph fastball, putting himself in an excellent hitter’s count.
“It was funny,” Raburn said, “because I thought about (bunting) it on my own just to try to get that runner over.”
After three 94-mph fastballs, Raburn saw a hanging slider at 85. He turned on it and drove it on the home run porch in left for the Indians’ seventh walk-off win of the season.
“Once they took the bunt off my main thing was to try to get that runner in,” Raburn said. “If not, worst-case scenario, get him to third base and give the guys behind me a chance to score him. It’s just this game. Crazy things happen. I’m just fortunate to be on the good side of it.”
Swisher described it in his own inimitable way.
“He was trying to do a little Brett Butler bunt right there, and then he tried to do a little butcher boy,” Swisher said. “And then he said, ‘You know what, I swing the bat. That’s what I do.’”
It was a game the Indians led 7-1 after four and 8-4 heading into the seventh. But Cody Allen and Joe Smith each gave up two runs in the eighth and ninth, respectively, to send the game to extra innings. But just as the bullpen failed it also came through, as Chris Perez pitched two scoreless innings (the ninth on five pitches) and Bryan Shaw got Nelson Cruz to pop out with a runner on third and two out in a scoreless 11th to keep hope going.
Raburn got to take the happiest trot possible, pumping his fist before reaching first base as the ball went out and as Frasor punched his fist in despair. After rounding third, Raburn slammed his helmet and jumped into the pile at home plate.
“You just want to get there,” Raburn said.
“I’m just launching water on him,” Swisher said. “I’m trying to think of something cool to do. I grabbed the two coldest waters I could find, and just tried to dump it on him.”
Raburn got the same knocking around that Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes earned after walk-off home runs earlier this season.
“It comes with the territory,” he said with a smile. “You kind of expect it, and you want it too.”