By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
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Cleveland: Jason Giambi needed just one swing in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday to undo the damage of two big swings by the Chicago White Sox in the top of the inning.
After Indians closer Chris Perez blew a one-run save opportunity by giving up solo home runs to Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza in the top of the ninth, the veteran Giambi blasted a two-run, pinch-hit home run into the right-field stands to hand the Indians a stunning 5-4 walk-off victory.
“I think I have a man crush on G [Giambi],” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “That was pretty awesome. Boy, did he hit that ball. Wow!”
The 405-foot blast marked Giambi’s second pinch-hit walk-off homer of the season — both coming against Chicago as the Tribe improved to 16-2 against the White Sox this season.
Before Giambi, 42, saved the day, the Indians had put themselves in perfect position to strengthen their bid for a wild-card berth into the playoffs by fighting back with two runs in the seventh inning.
But the embattled Perez couldn’t protect the 3-2 lead, giving up hits to three of the five batters he faced and seemingly gift-wrapping a rare White Sox victory.
Perez’s third pitch to Viciedo was launched 365 feet into the right field seats, marking the blown save. After retiring the next two batters, Perez gave up another solo homer to De Aza — the go-ahead run feeling more like a dagger in the heart of the 21,083 fans in attendance.
“He left a couple pitches that were over the middle of the plate,” Francona said, following up that he has no plans to remove Perez as the team’s closer. “We’re not going to shift gears with four games, five games, however many we have left.”
Perez, whose seven home runs allowed in save situations now lead all major-league closers, remained in the game for one more batter. But when Alexei Ramirez reached base on a single to left, Francona finally made his way to the mound to relieve Perez, as the fans rained hearty boos on him.
“I made him give me a hug because he needed it,” Giambi said of Perez. “[Now], he can wipe this away and start fresh [today].”
All the late back-and-forth action seemed light years away from the start of the game as Tribe starter Ubaldo Jimenez proved once again that he’s learned how to calmly pitch out of jams.
Jimenez dealt early, his three strikeouts over the first two innings all of the called variety. Jimenez, who entered the game with an American League-leading 1.77 ERA in the second half of the season, went on to give the Indians a solid, 6⅓-inning effort despite not factoring in the decision.
But unlike some of his more recent dominant outings, Jimenez didn’t cruise through the White Sox order all evening.
After a fast start, Jimenez found himself in trouble in the fourth inning when he allowed the first two batters to reach safely. Facing similar situations last season stressed the right-hander so much, he was rarely able to recover from the jam. But this season, the biggest reason for Jimenez’s stunning turnaround has been his ability to limit damage.
The Indians gave Jimenez a lead to work with early. Left fielder Michael Brantley put the Indians on the board first in the second inning with an RBI-bloop single to shallow center field.
But Jimenez began to fight his command in the fourth inning, as the White Sox had three runners reach base on a lead-off walk and two hits. But Jimenez was able to limit the damage to a Viciedo sacrifice fly that knotted the score 1-1 and rebounded to give the Indians 2⅓ more innings before Francona called on the bullpen with two on and one out in the seventh inning.
Reliever Cody Allen traded an out for a fielder’s choice before giving up the go-ahead run (charged to Jimenez) when De Aza ripped an RBI-single that gave the White Sox a 2-1 advantage.
But the deficit didn’t last long, as Brantley blasted a 410-foot, lead-off home run on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the inning to tie the score once again. Four batters later, Jason Kipnis rapped a two-out single to left field to put the Indians back on top 3-2.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.