CLEVELAND -- Did someone say deja vu?
The Indians entered all too familiar territory Monday night. After losing a two-run lead in the ninth inning in Minnesota on Sunday, closer Brad Hand blew a one-run lead in the Tribe's 6-5 win over the Red Sox at Progressive Field just over
CLEVELAND -- Did someone say deja vu?
The Indians entered all too familiar territory Monday night. After losing a two-run lead in the ninth inning in Minnesota on Sunday, closer Brad Hand blew a one-run lead in the Tribe's 6-5 win over the Red Sox at Progressive Field just over 24 hours later. But both times, Carlos Santana was there to save the day and, on Monday, put he the Indians in sole possession of first place in the American League Central.
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“To give up the lead in the ninth is never ideal, but the past two nights the offense has picked me up and scored a run the next inning,” Hand said. “That’s what good teams do. They pick each other up.”
With the game tied at 5 in the bottom of the ninth, Santana blasted a walk-off solo homer a projected 410 feet a day after launching the go-ahead grand slam in the top of the 10th inning against the Twins. According to Elias, Santana became the first Indians player to hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning or later in back-to-back games since Albert Belle on Aug. 30-31, 1995. Jim Thome also accomplished the same feat earlier that year in June.
“Yeah, honestly, it’s anyone in our lineup, we think they can do it, especially him,” Indians starter Zach Plesac said. “He’s been [amazing], just like our whole lineup. There’s never a doubt when we’re down a run or two, even three. Our offense is so good, you feel confident that we’re gonna come back and score these runs. There’s never a doubt we’re gonna lose a game.”
It’s hard to doubt him when Santana has proven to be so clutch for his team the entire season. In 134 at-bats this season when the game is tied, Santana has hit .321 with six doubles, one triple, 10 homers, 27 RBIs and a 1.014 OPS.
“He has come up so big for us and has been so consistent,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Right when you get punched in the stomach he takes a swing like that. I mean, that was a gorgeous swing. I know the last two days, but he’s been doing it all year.”
The long ball was Santana’s 200th in an Indians uniform, tying Travis Hafner for eighth-most in franchise history. The Tribe slugger has hit 12 go-ahead homers this season, including five in the seventh inning or later, which is the second-most in the Majors behind the Padres’ Hunter Renfroe.
“You guys know Carlos is a damage guy,” outfielder Franmil Reyes, who hit his first homer in an Indians uniform on Monday, said. “A really dangerous guy and you have to watch out every time he is up there.”
And while Santana has allowed Hand to secure the victories in consecutive contests, the closer has recorded his third and fourth blown saves of the season in back-to-back days.
“I felt good. Everything felt good,” Hand said. “I just can’t make the big pitch to get out of it. I had a chance yesterday to get out of some stuff, two outs, runner on first today, but I just can’t make that pitch to get the job done right now.”
With one out in the ninth, Hand walked Mookie Betts before striking out Rafael Devers. But Xander Bogaerts knocked in the tying run on a double off the right-field wall that was a challenging play for Tyler Naquin to make. Hand got out of the frame by forcing Andrew Benintendi to fly out to right.
“I wouldn’t call it a bad night,” Francona said. “Sometimes you gotta tip your hat to the other team, too. The last two, Minnesota and Boston, these offenses are ridiculous. If Naq gets back to it, if he catches it the game’s over. ... I actually thought he made a pretty good pitch. He threw a fastball away, I wouldn’t second-guess that. These guys are pretty good hitters.”
With the win, the Indians sit alone atop the American League Central standings for the first time since entering play on April 20 with an 11-7 record.
“It says a lot about the guys we have in this clubhouse,” Hand said. “Nobody threw in the towel. Nobody gave up, and we all battled together. And to be where we’re at today -- back in first place -- is something we should all be proud of, but we got a lot of work left to do and we got a lot of season left. Now we just gotta keep it going and finish in first.”
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.