CLEVELAND: It took one at-bat to alter the perception of the way the Indians played Monday night.
One at-bat in the ninth inning, the first at-bat. Jason Giambi stepped in the box against Ramon Troncoso, looked at a ball and a strike then put a hefty swing on a pitch to send the ball climbing like a Boeing 737 on takeoff, the drive soaring over the center-field fence to give the Tribe a 3-2 win over the White Sox at Progressive Field.
It only took the few seconds the ball was in the air to forget about a second-inning error by Mike Aviles, an eighth-inning error by Cody Allen, a misplayed line drive by Ryan Raburn and the Tribe’s 1-for-10 log with runners in scoring position.
A diving catch of a fly ball by Michael Bourn and tough running catches on the track by Raburn and Michael Brantley took their place.
Giambi, the spiritual leader of the team if there is one, talked about how happy he is to see the club progress from individuals to a working unit.
“I love the way we’re growing,’’ he said. “We’re going to keep learning. It’s exciting how it’s all coming together.’’
Manager Terry Francona never fails to praise Giambi, who keeps coming up with reasons for the manager to confer admiration on the 42-year-old former All-Star.
“People look at his batting average [.187 coming in], then you look at his run production per at-bat,’’ Francona said. “It’s tremendous.
“I could fill up a book; I keep talking about him, but I never quite get there. That’s how valuable he is.’’
Giambi has 24 RBI and seven home runs in 124 at-bats.
“I was just trying to take a good at-bat,’’ Giambi said. “Spending all that time in the National League [pinch hitter], a walk is as good as a hit to get something started.
“I didn’t want to try and do too much. But I got a pitch up in the strike zone and caught it pretty good.’’
So Giambi did do too much, or maybe it was just enough.
For much of the game it appeared the White Sox were incapable of scoring, and that the scoreless streak by Indians pitchers might continue until the Sox left town Thursday afternoon.
But alas, the streak ended after 26 innings, when Zach McAllister gave up three hits in a row with two out in the sixth inning.
Alex Rios began the sudden rally with a double and scored on a double by Adam Dunn. Paul Konerko followed with an RBI single to give the White Sox a 2-1 lead, and Conor Gillaspie drilled a line drive to the track in left. It didn’t look as if Raburn would be able to catch up with the ball, but he continued his dash and stabbed it for the third out.
“I just left a few pitches up, and they’re good hitters,’’ McAllister said. “They made me pay for my mistakes.’’
It had not been a pleasant season for Chicago starter John Danks until Monday night. Danks came into the game with a 2-8 record and 4.81 ERA.
But on this night, he held the Tribe to two runs (one unearned) on two hits and three walks. The walks and an error by Gillaspie at third proved to be lethal to Danks, who left the game after walking the first batter in the seventh inning.
The Indians eked out their first run in the second, but they wouldn’t have done it if Gillaspie hadn’t delivered an errant throw to first after fielding Asdrubal Cabrera’s leadoff grounder. Raburn followed with a double, sending Cabrera to third, and Carlos Santana’s sacrifice fly brought home Cabrera.
It appeared that Danks’ virtual invincibility would end in the sixth, when consecutive walks to Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher plus Jason Kipnis’ bunt single loaded the bases with nobody out.
But no big inning was forthcoming. Bourn scored on Cabrera’s groundout, and that was it. Raburn and Santana grounded out to end the threat, almost before it started.
The Sox came dangerously close to taking the lead in the ninth with Chris Perez on the mound. Dayan Viciedo whacked a two-out line drive to right. Raburn tried to make a shoestring catch and the ball skipped past him, Viciedo pulling into third with a triple.
Gordon Beckham followed with a line drive to left that Brantley chased down after a long run.
“Those are the kinds of plays that save ballgames,’’ Giambi said.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.