CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis strolled up the first-base line, admiring his shot to the right-field seats as the Progressive Field crowd roared. In the on-deck circle, Francisco Lindor threw his bat high into the air, kicked his legs in celebration and ran onto the field like a little kid.For most
CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis strolled up the first-base line, admiring his shot to the right-field seats as the Progressive Field crowd roared. In the on-deck circle, Francisco Lindor threw his bat high into the air, kicked his legs in celebration and ran onto the field like a little kid.
For most of Wednesday night, the Indians' offense was silent. Kipnis put an end to that with a walk-off grand slam off Ian Hamilton to give the Tribe a 4-1 victory over the White Sox. It marked the fifth walk-off win of the year for the American League Central champions and set off an on-field party that Cleveland hopes is a teaser for October.
"Couldn't draw it up much better than that one," Kipnis said. "That felt good."
Seven years ago, Kipnis' first career hit for the Indians was a walk-off single against the Angels. Carlos Santana scored the winning run and Austin Kearns and Travis Buck were the first to greet Kipnis on the infield with celebratory jabs in that one. Last month, Kipnis recorded an inside-the-park homer for his 100th career round-tripper.
As the ninth inning took shape for the Indians -- Josh Donaldson beat out an infield hit, Yandy Diaz singled and Yan Gomes was hit by a pitch -- Kipnis thought ahead to another milestone. He was sitting on 999 career hits when he walked to the plate with one out and the bases loaded.
"There's just something going on with these round numbers," Kipnis said. "Going into the ninth inning, I thought, 'Wouldn't this be a way to get the 1,000th?' As it turned out, I got closer and closer to the on-deck circle and home plate. The thought would keep creeping into my head and actually gave me a little more confidence. I was like, 'It's meant to be.'
"It's weird what belief can do in these situations. I was like, 'It's going to happen, I know it's going to happen.'"
Hamilton worked the count full against Kipnis, who swung through a changeup in the heart of the zone on the second pitch of their battle. For the 3-2 pitch, the White Sox righty returned to the offspeed offering, sending one over the middle again. This time, Kipnis made the most of what was now a mistake pitch.
The result was a no-doubter and Kipnis' teammates celebrated accordingly, pouring from the dugout and forming a mob around the plate. After launching his bat high in the air, Lindor looked up and quickly recalled that gravity would return the spiraling lumber back to earth.
"I didn't know what to do. I was just freaking out," Lindor said with a laugh. "I threw it really high and I stood there with my hands up, and then I looked up and was like, 'Oh, [no]. Where am I going to go now?' It was a scary moment for a second."
Lindor sprinted to Rajai Davis, who was jogging home from third base, and began jumping and high-fiving him several steps ahead of the plate.
"That was a first," Davis chuckled.
As he closed in on the chaotic crowd of players, Kipnis spiked his helmet on the ground, let out a howl and high-fived Lindor with both hands. He then disappeared in the pile, while being doused with water and having his jersey tugged in all directions. Kipnis emerged from the pack and Lindor found him again, embracing him in a hug.
"That's a fun feeling," Kipnis said.
The game-winning jack took Indians starter Carlos Carrasco off the hook following 6 2/3 overpowering innings. The big right-hander piled up 11 strikeouts, walked one and made just one mistake. In the sixth, Daniel Palka crushed a low fastball out to center for a solo homer.
For eight innings, it looked like that might be enough to even the series. The primary issue was White Sox starter Dylan Covey, who stifled the Indians over six shutout innings before turning it over to the bullpen.
"It's one of those games where you hope one mistake didn't cost you a game," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Because, that's all [Carrasco] really did."
Kipnis took care of that, providing another positive moment within what has been a trying season for the veteran.
His early-season offensive woes led to being removed from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He now has a consistent home in the lower-third. The Aug. 31 acquisition of Donaldson forced Jose Ramirez to move to second, pushing Kipnis -- a long-time second baseman -- to center field, where he is adjusting on the fly.
Throughout all the turbulence, Kipnis has remained focused on doing what is asked of him and preparing for the postseason.
"It doesn't matter what you do in the regular season," Lindor said. "If you go up in the postseason and you step up, and you help your team win, you're going to be remembered. People are going to remember you."
Dating to Aug. 26, when Kipnis implemented a mechanical adjustment involving his hands, he has hit .317/.405/.683 with six homers, five doubles, 23 RBIs and as many walks (eight) as strikeouts in 19 games. That stretch began with the game that included his milestone inside-the-park homer.
Kipnis certainly made the most of his 1,000th career hit.
"I'm still feeling good. I'm still feeling confident," Kipnis said. "This game is a metaphor for my season, too. I look for my openings, and where I can contribute and help out. It's up to me whether I can stay ready for it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Donaldson's dribbler: The ninth inning began with Donaldson hitting a slow roller in front of the plate, where reliever Juan Minaya fielded the ball and fired it to first. Donaldson narrowly beat the throw, stepping on the bag as the ball was arriving into first baseman Matt Davidson's glove. The White Sox challenged, but the safe call stood, giving the Indians a critical baserunner for the game-winning push.
"That's just the fun part of the game, you know?" Davis said. "Never giving up to the last out. Obviously, Donaldson set that up. I think that made up for all the hard-hit outs he's had. They made a nice play on him earlier in the game, but he got that nice infield hit at the right time and set the situation up."
Diaz finds the hole: After Donaldson reached in the ninth, he was replaced on the bases by the fleet-footed Davis. On a 2-1 pitch to Diaz, Davis broke for second base, forcing shortstop Tim Anderson to break for the bag. Diaz swung and sent a grounder through the hole created by Anderson's shift. Instead of a potential double-play ball, Diaz singled and the rally remained alive.
"Pitchers, they're going to pitch a little bit under pressure, a little bit more stress," Davis said. "Yandy was able to put the bat on the ball and I was breaking at the time. Somebody's got to cover. It worked out for us. I'm thankful."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Playing in back-to-back games for the first time since coming off the DL, Donaldson made a pair of impressive defensive plays at third. The first was a sliding back-handed grab on a grounder from Ryan Cordell in the third inning and firing a strong throw across the diamond. Cordell was robbed again in the seventh, when Donaldson lunged to his right to snare another grounder before again firing to first for a highlight-reel out.
For Carrasco, this was his career-best seventh outing of the season with at least 10 strikeouts and the club's 29th individual double-digit strikeout performance, which leads the Major Leagues. It's the most in a single season in the Majors since 2002, when the D-backs had 30.
Kipnis is the 37th player in Indians history to reach 1,000 career hits with the franchise. He is the only player in club history to have at least 100 home runs, 100 steals and 1,000 hits. Kipnis and Davey Lopes (Sept. 2, 1979) are the only players in MLB history to hit a walk-off slam for their 1,000th career hit.
Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin (1-5, 6.59 ERA) is scheduled to start the series finale against the White Sox at 7:10 p.m. ET on Thursday at Progressive Field. Tomlin has a 4.22 ERA in six appearances since coming off the disabled list. Chicago will counter with righty James Shields (7-16, 4.53 ERA).
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.