CLEVELAND: 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, which elicited plenty of boos from the crowd.
Just a strike away from his fourth strikeout, Swisher turned a frustrating day into sheer jubilation with one swing of the bat. He drilled a 1-2 cutter from Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, who had inherited a bases-loaded jam, and watched the ball sail over the right-field wall into the stands for a grand slam and 5-3 victory.
“One at-bat can turn your whole day around,” said Swisher, who is mired in a 3-for-25 skid, but with two of those hits being extra-inning, game-winning homers.
Swisher’s dramatic game winner quickly turned the boos into cheers among the 20,361 fans at Progressive Field.
“He hasn’t gotten a lot of hits, but it seems like the hits he’s gotten have been huge,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Before this, he had the home run in Boston. As long as he’s healthy, which he is, he’ll [be fine]. He started out like this last year and look how he ended.”
Fans above the Indians’ dugout were so stoked that they made O-H-I-O letters with their arms when the former Ohio State Buckeye ducked back out of the dugout for a quick curtain call.
“When I first hit it, I was like, ‘That’s a double, so just get to second, bro, as fast as you can,’ ” Swisher said. “And next thing you know, it goes out and I flip my bat and [first-base coach] Sandy [Alomar] and I are going crazy. It was just awesome, man.”
The stressful situation would have been a tough spot for anyone, but Frieri had struggled in his last three outings to the point where Angels manager Mike Scioscia sent rookie Cam Bedrosian to the mound in an attempt to try to stave off an Indians rally.
But after Bedrosian quickly worked himself into a bases-loaded jam, Scioscia was forced to go to Frieri after all — 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. David Murphy flied out to short left field.
That brought up Swisher, who had struck out in three of his first four at-bats and whose day began in just as frustrating fashion when he and his family found themselves stuck for 45 to 50 minutes in heavy traffic on their way to the ballpark before the noon game.
Swisher redeemed himself and made up for lost time — a dramatic turnaround that thrilled new pitcher Kyle Crockett, who picked up his first major-league victory with the big hit.
“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 Angels — with a much weaker, but just-as-effective swing.
With two men on, two out and veteran right-hander Scott Atchison pitching 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 groundout if second baseman Kipnis were in his normal defensive position.
Instead, the ball dribbled past Kipnis’ outstretched glove as he tried to dash back in place. As the ball slowed and came to a stop in the grass just beyond the infield dirt, Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout trotted home to give the Angels a 3-1 advantage.
Before the game went into extra innings, the score had been 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 groundout and scored on a Justin Masterson wild pitch.
After a rocky start, 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 a more traditional fashion, limiting the Tribe to the one run on three hits and three walks over seven innings.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.