Nick Swisher came to the plate in the 10th inning Thursday afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels having struck out three times – including twice looking.
Just a strike away from recording his fourth K of the day and bailing out struggling Angels closer Ernesto Frieri of an inherited bases-loaded jam, Swisher turned his frustrating day into a jubilant and memorable one with one swing of the bat.
Unlike the ball he crushed in the ninth inning that died in center field in a stiff wind, Swisher turned on a 1-2 cutter from the embattled Frieri and watched this one just dip over the right field wall into the stands for a grand slam that sent a crowd of 20,361 at Progressive Field home thrilled with the 5-3 extra-inning victory.
It was a tough spot for Frieri, who’s struggled in his last three outings to the point where Angels manager Mike Scioscia opted to first send rookie Cam Bedrosian to the mound to stave off an Indians rally. But after Bedrosian quickly worked himself into a bases-loaded jam, Scioscia was forced to go to Frieri in afterall – needing two outs with Michael Bourn at third after a walk, Jason Kipnis at second after a double and Carlos Santana at first base following a walk.
That brought up Swisher, who had struck out in three of his first four at-bats and whose day began in just as frustraing fashion as he sat in unexpected heavy traffic on his way to the ballpark before the noon game.
But Swisher redeemed himself and more than made up for lost time, which thrilled new teammate Kyle Crockett, who picked his first major league victory with the dramatic win.
“I was hoping someone would come up and get a clutch hit,” Crockett said. “When Swisher got behind in the count, I was a little worried. But he stepped up and got a big hit.”
Swisher’s heroics came a half inning after Angels slugger Albert Pujols appeared to have won the game for the visitors – via a much weaker, but just as effective, swing.
Like many major league teams these days, the Indians have joined an increasing group that routinely relies on a defensive over shift sometimes more than a couple times a game. And a majority of the time, the popular defensive strategy works.
But it didn’t on Thursday with Pujols - an experienced, smart and talented hitter ultimately headed to the Baseball Hall Fame after retirement.
With two men on, two out and veteran right-hander Scott Atchison facing him in the top of the 10th inning, Pujols stuck his bat out and sent a weak tapper through a wide gap between first and second base that would have been an easy ground out if second baseman Kipnis were in his normal defensive position.
Instead, the ball dribbled past Kipnis’ outstreched glove as tried to dash back in place in vain. As the ball slowed and came to a stop in the grass just beyong the infield dirt, Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout trotted home to give the Angels a 3-1 advantage.
Before the game went into bonus innings, the score was knotted 1-1 since the third inning when Bourn scored Yan Gomes. The Angels got on the board an inning earlier, when Howie Kendrick doubled, moved to third on a ground out and scored on a Justin Masterson wild pitch.
After a rocky start, a wildly effective Masterson settled in just enough to record seven innings, aided by a handful of standout defensive plays behind him. But Angels starter C.J. Wilson was just as effective in more traditional fashion, limiting the Tribe to the one run on three hits and a trio of walks over his seven innings.