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Giambi's late-inning heroics no fluke

Relegated to pinch-hitting role, veteran slugger prepares himself during game

CLEVELAND -- Gone are the days when Jason Giambi could serve as an imposing presence in the batter's box on a daily basis. He has been relegated to a bench role that includes working as a late-inning power specialist with pinch-hit appearances.

Fortunately for the Indians, Giambi has embraced that job in this latter stage of his career.

In the ninth inning Tuesday night, the 42-year-old Giambi came off the bench with two outs and hit a two-run, pinch-hit home run that sent the crowd into a frenzy and Cleveland home with a 5-4 victory. It marked the third pinch-hit home run of the season for Giambi, and the 10th walk-off shot of his 19-year career.

"It's not an accident that he hit that home run last night," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You stay ready, and you stay ready, and when your name is called, it doesn't always mean you're going to hit a home run, but if you're not ready, you have no chance."

How does Giambi stay at the ready for eight innings?

"I usually hit around the fifth or the sixth inning maybe," Giambi said. "And I'll kind of have a feel for the game. Who's coming up in what situation? See what position I might hit in. And just try to stay loose."

Giambi said spending parts of the past four seasons in the National League with the Rockies, who used him as a part-time first baseman and pinch-hitter, helped him hone his ability to hit off the bench. Dating back to 2009, among the 1,871 players with no more than 875 at-bats in that span, Giambi ranked first in RBIs (157) and walks (151) and second in home runs (42), entering Wednesday.

This season with the Indians, Giambi had a .181 average through 182 at-bats overall, but had a .271 mark (48 at-bats) with runners in scoring position. He was also batting .263 with a 1.181 OPS in the ninth inning, and was second to only Boston's Jonny Gomes (four) in pinch-hit homers this season.

Giambi's two pinch-hit walk-off homers this season not only made him the oldest player in baseball history to launch a walk-off shot -- a mark previously set by Hank Aaron in 1976 -- but they both came against the White Sox. As a result, Giambi became the first player since Detroit's Gates Brown in 1968 (against the Red Sox) to have two pinch-hit, walk-off blasts against the same team in one season.

"Pinch-hitting is not easy, especially coming off the bench in the ninth," said Michael Brantley, who was on second base for Giambi's game-winning blast on Tuesday. "I mean, you're cold. You haven't seen any pitches. And he put such a great swing on that ball."

Giambi said working as a pinch-hitter requires an altered approach at the plate, because the batter is often seeing hard-throwing relievers or closers at that point in the game.

"You have to be more aggressive, because you can't really get into the at-bat," Giambi explained. "And, usually, the guy you're facing, too, is lights-out. It's not necessarily some pie thrower that's coming in. You're getting the best of the best, so you have to try to get that one mistake."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for
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