TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — In a stunning season of walk-off wins, late-inning comebacks and magical moments , Jason Giambi provided the most stirring one yet.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Giambi said. “I’m speechless.”
The Indians are roaring toward October.
Giambi belted a two-run, pinch-hit homer with two outs in the ninth inning to give Cleveland a shocking 5-4 win over the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night, keeping the Indians up with the lead pack in the AL wild-card race.
Giambi drove a 1-1 pitch from Addison Reed (5-4) deep into the lower deck in right field to prevent a potentially devastating loss for the Indians, who are trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2007. Giambi’s heart-pounding shot bailed out controversial closer Chris Perez, who gave up two homers in the top of the ninth and nearly blew a game Cleveland absolutely had to have.
“I made him give me a hug because he needed it,” Giambi said of Perez, who hasn’t spoken to the media in months. “He can wipe this away and start fresh tomorrow.”
As he rounded third base, the 42-year-old Giambi slowed down before being engulfed at the plate by his teammates as the Indians celebrated their 13th straight win over Chicago. Giambi then wrapped his arms around manager Terry Francona and carried him off the field.
“I think I have a man crush on ‘G,'” Francona said. “That was pretty awesome. Boy, did he hit that ball. Wow!”
The Indians have 11 walk-off wins this season, with nine players taking turns in the hero’s role.
“I’ve said this before, but this is the ultimate team I’ve ever played on,” Giambi said. “It’s unbelievable how many people have helped us win games this season.”
Long after Giambi’s homer cut through the October-like air, fans lingered in their seats and the Indians were still in a daze.
“I was giggling around the ball field and the hallways like a 7-year old kid for 10 minutes after that happened,” All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Bryan Shaw (6-3) came in after Perez had nearly given away a game the Indians couldn’t afford to lose.
Giambi has been a steadying force all season for the Indians in the clubhouse, and the unquestioned Drama King on it.
This was his 10th career walk-off homer, and his second pinch-hit, walk-off this season. On July 29, he became the oldest player to hit a walk-off homer, breaking a mark previously held by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. Now, Giambi has become the Indians’ elder statesman of swat.
After he dressed, Giambi was on his way out of Cleveland’s clubhouse when Nick Swisher offered his assistance.
“I’ll carry you. I’ll carry your car. I’ll carry anything you need, ‘Big G,'” Swisher said. “That guy has been monstrous for this organization.”
Perez owes him big time.
In the top of the ninth, Perez, who has walked a tightrope on and off the field all season, had to be pulled by Francona after failing to close out a 3-2 lead.
Cleveland remains in the second AL wild-card spot, one game ahead of Texas and one behind Tampa Bay. The Rangers beat Houston 3-2, and the Rays shut out the Yankees 7-0. With five games left, any loss can be devastating.
On this night, Giambi saved Perez, the Indians — and maybe their season.
“He’s always ready, and that’s why he’s playing this game — because he wants to win,” Francona said. “He is willing to do anything for anybody at any time. He’s been a blessing for all of us.”
Even the White Sox appreciate Giambi.
“I’ve seen him do that before,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. “Having played with him, just knowing how he is on the team, you might not see it in numbers, but the personality of their team and how they play, how they go about their business, I know he’s a pretty big piece of that, regardless of how much he’s played.”
With the Indians leading 3-2, Perez gave up a homer to Dayan Viciedo, a shot into the right-field seats that drew a groan from Cleveland fans the moment it left his bat. Perez struck out the next two hitters, but Alejandro De Aza connected on his next pitch, driving it over the wall in right-center. Perez stalked around the mound with his head down before giving up a single to Alexei Ramirez.
That brought out Francona to a loud ovation and Perez, who has been a lightning rod of debate over the past two seasons, was booed loudly as he left the field.
“He left a couple pitches that were over the middle of the plate,” said Francona, who shot down any thought of changing closer this late in the season. “We’re not going to shift gears with four games, five games, however many we have left.”
Indians center fielder Michael Bourn sprained his right wrist in the fifth inning and was being treated by trainer Lonnie Soloff when Giambi connected on his homer.
“I almost broke Lonnie’s neck,” Bourn said. “You don’t see something like that very often.”
NOTES: Giambi is the 13th player since 1950 with 10 or more walk-off homers. … White Sox 1B Paul Konerko fouled a pitch off his leg in the eighth, struck out and was pulled from the game. … Indians All-Star RHP Justin Masterson could pitch in relief as early as Wednesday when he returns from a strained left oblique. Francona said Masterson, out since Sept. 2, will join Cleveland’s bullpen for the final week. It’s unlikely the team leader in wins, innings and strikeouts, will start again this season unless the Indians make the playoffs and play deep into October. … White Sox INF Jeff Keppinger will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery Thursday. He’s had soreness since spring training and decided to have the procedure now with the hope he’ll be ready for spring training. … Sox DH Adam Dunn struck out four times, dropping him to .119 (7 for 59) in September.
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