Indians relish first walk-off win of 2015
CLEVELAND - Roberto Perez stood on third base, hoping the ball would be hit anywhere but to center field.
With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, he represented the eventual winning run that would give the Indians a 1-0 victory. Tampa Bay center fielder Kevin Kiermaier's robust right arm represented what could stop Perez from reaching home safely.
The ball came off David Murphy's bat and into Kiermaier's glove. Of course. Perez broke for home. Murphy's stomach dropped a bit. Indians manager Terry Francona said it felt like his catcher's legs got shorter with each step towards home.
The throw beat Perez to the plate. He thought he was out. It skipped out of catcher Curt Casali's glove. He was safe.
The Indians had won, securing their first walk-off victory of the season after a grueling 13-21 start on their home turf and a walk-off drought that was inching towards a franchise record.
"The minute the ball left the bat, you knew it was going to be close," Francona said. "Kiermaier throws about as good as anybody or better, and it looked like Roberto's legs were getting shorter as he was running. Kidding aside, he actually got a good jump."
Perhaps the Indians shouldn't have been nervous. Perez did just go first-to-third on a single, after all.
"It's funny in a situation like that, he's not your best speed guy out there, but giving him a chance to run as hard as he can, he did a great job," Murphy said.
The walk-off was the sixth of Murphy's career, but just the first for the team in 2015. Though, it's not like they hadn't come close.
Back on May 14, they sent Zach Walters and Jason Kipnis to the plate with a man on first, where one swing could have caused a party at the plate. On May 26, they had the winning run on first with Michael Brantley at the dish. On June 9, a leadoff homer by Yan Gomes and a single by Michael Bourn brought life to the stadium and the score within one, giving Kipnis and Murphy opportunities to send the stadium into a frenzy.
But none of those times did the Indians deliver. They had played 67 games without getting to celebrate on their home field. Dating back to at least 1940, the team had never gone more than 77 games into a season without a walk-off.
"That was our first walk-off win this year? Wow," an incredulous Murphy said after being informed of the drought. "Celebrating on the field is always a fun thing to do. In the past, plenty of teams have seen a walk-off moment catapult the team forward and hopefully that will be this game for us."