The fact that the Indians had, make that, wanted, Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound to help clinch their American League Wild Card berth Sunday in Minnesota says all anyone needs to know about the turnaround the veteran right-hander made this season.
Jimenez, the butt of countless jokes over last two years underscoring why Cleveland sports never seems to get anything right, took his team’s trust in him and ran with it on the sunny afternoon at Target Field that turned into a perfect back drop for a wild Tribe celebration.
The “Big U” limited the Twins to a run while striking out a career-high tying 13 on the final day of the regular season en route to winning his 13th game of the season and giving the Indians a one-game shot of continuing in the post season with Wednesday’s Wild Card game at Progressive Field against either Tampa Bay or Texas.
Before the game when Indians manager Terry Francona was asked whether any thought was given to not start Jimenez today, he seemed shocked by the mere suggestion.
“No,” Francona said. “We need to win today. No.”
In fact, Francona said Jimenez has turned his career around so much this season, the Indians juggled their rotation a couple weeks back to ensure the veteran right-hander would pitch last game of season if a win was needed.
It was and he did.
Nick Swisher got the Indians offense off to a 2-0 jump start in the first inning, depositing home run No. 22 on the season into the Target Field left field bleachers.
Jimenez made the early runs hold up by retiring 17 consecutive batters after giving up a lead off single to the Twins' Alex Presley – the first batter of game he faced.
Meanwhile, with two on and no outs in the sixth inning, three Twins errors helped the Tribe tack on another pair of runs to push their advantage to 4-0.
Asdrubal Cabrera laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt to move the runners over into scoring poisition, but a throwing error on Diamond allowed Carlos Santana to score from third. Two batters later, Yan Gomes hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Ryan Raburn.
In the seventh, Santana's RBI double off the right field wall scored Jason Kipnis, giving the visitors five unanswered runs.
After cruising though the first six innings, Jimenez his his first speed bump of the day in the next inning. After quickly getting the first two outs of the seventh, the Twins pieced together three consecutive singles. Eric Fryer’s third proudcing the host’s the lone of the afternoon.
Jimenez, who owns a 1.72 ERA with 94 strikeouts and just one home run allowed over 78 1/3 innings since July 28, was congratulated heartily for efforts by his teammates upon making his way into the vistor’s dugout.
Reliever Marc Rzepcynski quickly cleaned up the inning by striking out pinch hitter Chris Colabello to ensure no further damage. The left-handed Rzepcynski also faced the first batter of the eighth inning – southpaw Presley – before Justin Masterson was called on to get the final two outs of the game.
It was fitting that Masteron, the team’s ace who recently missed three weeks with an oblique injury, was handed the ball to finish off the final outs of the final game of the regular season. Although the big right-hander walked the first batter he faced in his third consecutive relief outing, he rebounded to retire the next two to clinch the win.
The Indians celebration was on in full force, first with hugs and congratulatory pats on the back on the field among the players, then in a quickly champagne-soaked vistor’s locker room with front office personnel including team owner Paul Dolan, president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti.