The Indians three-game series sweep of the Texas Rangers undoubtedly belonged to right fielder David Murphy.
But it was his outfield mate – centerfielder Michael Brantley - who stole the show Sunday with a 12th-inning leadoff home run that propelled the Tribe to a 4-3 victory that capped the weekend of wins and put them back over the .500 mark.
During a weekend that celebrated former Indians slugger Jim Thome with a statue, it was fitting that Brantley became the first Tribe player with two extra-inning walk-off home runs in the same season as Thome - who first managed the feat in 2001.
Murphy, who played for the Rangers (43-68) for seven seasons before signing with the Indians (56-55) as a free agent this past off season, provided each of the Indians three runs in regulation. His run-scoring double in the second started the Indians scoring, and his clutch two-run home run with out in the ninth closed a two-run gap and sent the game into extra innings.
Long before the bats got going, the fans at Progressive Field were treated to a pitcher’s dual through the first seven innings between Indians youngster Trevor Bauer and Rangers three-year “veteran” Yu Darvish.
Darvish, a seven-year Japanese professional before coming to the U.S., expertly kept the Tribe’s batsman off balance with an array of pitches that included his patented curveball, which he used more in this outing then when the Indians last faced him in Texas in early June.
This time against the Tribe, the right-hander limited the host Indians to Murphy’s second-inning RBI double. But Darvish had a lot of help from his friends, as his defense made an array of hit-saving catches to limit the number of men on base throughout his outing.
Darvish, who entered the sunny afternoon game already owning double-digit victories on this season’s resume along with a 2.90 ERA, was denied his 11th win despite limiting the Indians to the lone run on four hits and two walks. He also struck out eight in seven strong innings on the mound.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s outing was what has become a classic Bauer performance this season. The Indians right-hander couldn’t find the strike zone early, giving up three early runs in the process. But starting in the third inning, Bauer settled in after two shaky innings and pitched five more scoreless in his career-high 7 1/3-inning outing.
Bauer pitched into the eighth inning, but allowed the first two hitters to reach safely, as Elvis Andrus singled to lead off the inning and Alex Rios followed with a fielder’s choice. The dangerous Adrian Beltre was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out, but manager Terry Francona went to the bullpen. Despite the precarious situation, former closer John Axford pitched his way out the inherited jam to get Bauer off the hook for two more runs.
After Bauer’s exit, the Tribe bullpen showed why it’s one of the best in baseball. Five relievers combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings in which only one hit was allowed. But it was the veteran of the group, Scott Atchison, who pitched just 1/3 inning, earned the win to improve to 5-0 on the season.