CLEVELAND — It’s emblematic of this Cleveland Indians team.
A minor-league lifer comes through in a clutch moment, a guy taking part in just his 84th major league game after playing in 1,250 in the minors — from Sacramento to Staten Island.
Matt Carson called it “the pinnacle” of his baseball life, which by his own admission has seen him criss-cross the country several times.
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Previously, Carson was known as “Crash” for the way he crashed headfirst into the wall in center field for the Oakland A’s in 2009 (yes, it’s on YouTube … search for ‘Matt Carson runs into wall’). Now at least he can say he’s had a walkoff hit for a team fighting for a playoff spot.
Because Carson’s base hit just to the right of a diving Jose Altuve at second base scored the winning run from third in the 11th inning as the Indians beat Houston 2-1 and stayed within one-half game in the wild card chase.
“We’ll take any win any way we can,” said manager Terry Francona, “but it’s kind of nice.”
Because Francona understands as well as anyone. After his career was short-circuited by knee injuries, he bounced around from team to team, trying to catch on and hang on.
Carson is 32 now, with three children. He started in baseball in 2002 in Staten Island in the New York-Penn League. He played for teams in Battle Creek, Mich., Tampa (ClassA), Trenton (AA), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AAA), Sacramento (AAA), Durham (AAA), Rochester (AAA) and Columbus this season. He played 10 games for the A’s in 2009, 36 in 2010. In 2012 he spent 26 games in Minnesota, and this season was called up by the Indians in late August when Ryan Raburn was struggling with calf and Achilles injuries.
In 10 plate appearances, he is 7-for-9 with one walk and a home run — off Chicago’s fine lefty Chris Sale.
When he walked to the plate in the bottom of the 11th, the bases were loaded and two were out. He said he figured he’d get a hit or the game would go on.
“It wasn’t a pressure at-bat,” he said.
Maybe, maybe not. He didn’t treat it like it was. He swung at the first pitch, a fastball he figured Rhiner Cruz would throw to get ahead, and fouled it off.
“That pitch was right there,” Francona said.
There were no instructions from the manager to take a pitch or two.
“I just wanted him to find a way to get that runner home,” Francona said. “Trying to make a guy take like that, that’s hard. The guy’s not playing every day to begin with. Just go have a good at-bat.”
The second pitch was a fastball as well, and Carson hit it hard but on the ground. Altuve dove, but the ball got by him. He was greeted between first and second by Mike Aviles — and soon by the whole team.
“That was kind of the pinnacle for me at this point in my career,” Francona said. “To do it for a playoff team like we have right now, in a win that we need, it was tops for me.”
“He comes to spring training, does a great job, everybody likes him,” Francona said. “He went to AAA all year. He goes in and plays defense, gets hits. It’s kind of rewarding to see a young kid work like that and get a hit.”
As Francona spoke, shouts and cheers could be heard across the hall from the clubhouse, where the team was celebrating with and for Carson, who said the win did bring to mind all the places he’s played.
“I’ve crisscrossed this country quite a few times playing this game,” he said. “At all different levels. As long as I’m helping the team do what we’re trying to accomplish any way I can — whether it’s playing defense, running the bases or getting a here and there — that’s what I’m here do to.”
He said being called up to the majors was his previous high point, but he’s had many low points.
“Being in the minor leagues as long as I have, there definitely has been those times,” he said. “But as long as I’m still playing the game, it can’t be that low.”
Carson was not the only contributor of course. Ubaldo Jimenez started and pitched seven innings and gave up one run, striking out nine. Francona said the Indians now are “leaning on” Jimenez, and Jimenez is enjoying it.
In relief, Joe Smith, Chris Perez, Cody Allen and Brian Shaw pitched scoreless innings — with Perez getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the ninth.
In the end, it was the 32-year-old who came through. It’s emblematic of this team, as it has had 10 walkoff wins, with nine different guys providing the hits.
“Every game is huge,” said Nick Swisher. “We got a scrappy group here, and it’s gonna be interesting to see what happens at the end.”