Slugger hopes game-winning home run jump-starts his season
CLEVELAND -- Up until the 10th inning of Thursday's tilt with the Angels, Nick Swisher had been burdened by bad luck. First, he got stuck in traffic on his way to the stadium, throwing off his usual routine. Then he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, including a well-hit ball to the warning track in the ninth that died in the wind and could have won the game.
But with the bases loaded, two outs and his team down two, Swisher got just enough of an Ernesto Frieri fastball to push it up and over the right-field wall to give the Indians a 5-3 win.
"When I first hit it, I was like, 'All right, that's a double,'" said Swisher, still beaming after his late-game heroics. "Next thing you know, I'm like, 'Just get to second, bro, as fast as you can.' And then, next thing you know, it went out.
"Man, I flipped my bat. Me and [first-base coach] Sandy [Alomar Jr.], we were going crazy. It was just awesome, man."
Indians walk-off grand slams
Sandy Alomar Jr.
*Since at least 1955
For the second time in five days, Swisher was responsible for a game-winning home run in extra innings, having hit an 11th-inning solo shot against the Red Sox in Sunday's 3-2 victory. The grand slam was just his third hit since returning from the DL last Thursday.
"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.
Swisher has been a part of six walk-off hits in his 11 seasons in the Majors, including four home runs, but this was his first grand slam to end a ballgame. He is not, however, the only active Indians player to accomplish the feat: Carlos Santana and Jason Giambi can both claim walk-off slams.
Santana vividly recalls the elation he felt after his game-winning slam, which came during his first full season with the team. His shot gave the Tribe a 9-5 win over the Tigers on April 29, 2011,
"That was the most emotion I've had in my life," Santana said. "Grand slam. It's the best in baseball. That was my favorite moment. ... If I have a chance, I want to do it again, because it's the best."
Giambi hit his walk-off grand slam for the Yankees back on May 18, 2002. It came in the 14th inning of a wild five-hour, 45-minute shootout with the Twins and gave New York a 13-12 victory. Travis Hafner was the last Cleveland player to hit a walk-off slam, pulling the trick against the Blue Jays in a 5-4 victory on July 7, 2011.
"Any walk-off is incredible," Giambi said. "To hit a home run in that situation is incredible."
As rare as a walk-off grand slam may seem, the exploit has occurred relatively often. Since 1950, the feat has been accomplished more than 170 times, including former Indians Carlos Martinez in 1992 and Don Dillard in 1962. Swisher's blast was the first by a Cleveland hitter at Progressive Field.
Swisher's recent display of power in high-leverage situations stands in contrast to the rest of his season, which has been characterized by a remarkably slow start at the plate -- .200 with five homers through 55 games -- and the aforementioned knee injury. But there is plenty of faith among the Cleveland clubhouse that the switch-hitting veteran can regain his usual offensive rhythm.
"As long as he's healthy, which he is, he'll get [hits]," Francona said of Swisher. "He started out this way last year. The average might be a little lower because of his slow start, but he'll still impact us offensively."
Perhaps his first walk-off grand slam could even spark the turnaround.
"I love being in those spots," Swisher said. "Either one of two things are going to happen. Either you're going to get a hit and be the hero, or youre going to be the goat. One of the two. It was nice to come out on top and be the hero tonight."
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com.